We recently had the opportunity to talk with Jayna Hefford about the status, and future, of women’s hockey. Yes, that Jayna Hefford, the FIVE time Olympian who was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. After playing and working in the (now defunct) Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), Jayna recently assumed the role of Operations Consultant for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA), where the best female hockey players in the world have come together in solidarity to create a better future for the sport. Heck. Yes.
Let’s get to our interview with Jayna:
Lexie at The GIST (TG): First off, why did you choose to lead the PWHPA and stay committed to women's hockey post-CWHL?
Jayna Hefford (JH): Well, I’ve been involved for so long because I have such a passion for the game and believe in its future. I want young girls in sports, hockey or otherwise, to have a place to compete.
After I finished with the CWHL, I followed along with what the players were doing and told the players that I’d help in any non-formal way I can. Then, this opportunity to become the Operations Consultant for the PWHPA came up after Kendall Coyne Schofield and Ilana Kloss called and said they needed to make a change and asked if I’d want to take over.
Honestly, it’s really tough to say no to these players and people that I respect so much…so, to be able to come back in this capacity is something I’m excited about. The CWHL was exciting, and an important part of the process with the sport, but we knew something greater needed to be built. Now, I’ve never been more optimistic for the future of the game, and to be a part of the process to push the sport forward is really exciting.
TG: Really exciting times! What is something you wish more people understood about the #ForTheGame and PWHPA movement?
JH: Well, of course there are naysayers that think these women just want to be paid, but...
This movement is so much bigger than getting paid. It’s about the next generation getting to see something they can aspire to.
When I was growing up I wanted to play in the NHL. And fortunately my dreams were always supported as a child, but the reality was, I was just never going to play in the NHL.
I have two daughters myself now, who have grown up knowing about women’s hockey and that girls play, but it’s important for all young girls to know that it’s normal to want to be an athlete and to play women’s hockey, and that there’s great power in that. We’ve all seen the stats around successful women in business and their history in playing sports, so this is really about building a stronger generation and society as a whole.
TG: Absolutely. There’s a huge opportunity here. How can fans support the players and the game?
JH: The biggest thing is...just show up. This hockey season, we’ll have showcase series and exhibition games across North America. What everyone can do to help is to just be there and support these players so that these athletes can see all of these people there that believe in what they believe in.
So, just be a part of this movement in whatever way you can, big or small.
Because this isn’t just about women’s hockey. This is a movement to keep young girls in sports and to empower women.
The players leading this, I have such a respect for the leadership and courage they’ve shown, and I would love to see people to just make supporting them a priority.
And also, use it as a conversation piece for your kids, you know. This is about empowering girls and creating something for the future that they can see and aspire to. So, being there and supporting it can be a great conversation starter for parents with kids.
TG: For sure. Just showing up seems so simple. But so necessary. What makes you feel the most optimistic and excited about the growth of the game?
JH: First off, the athletes have been so impressive with their leadership, the amount of work they’ve put in, and selflessness. Not just for themselves, but for the betterment of the future. This is a cultural issue we’re trying to improve for everyone, so I’m excited about the kind of role models these athletes are, and how they have really stepped up.
Also, it’s just been really great to see how many people are responding positively to this movement. We’ve brought in partners who haven’t been traditional women’s hockey partners in the past, but they now see the value in what we’re doing. So, continuing to get people to see the value and power this has, it gives me a lot of excitement.
TG: That’s really awesome. On another similar note, the Swedish Women’s National team recently took a stand by not going to training camp due to the lack of support and compensation. What are your thoughts on that statement from the Swedish program?
JH: Well, when you see other people standing up for something they believe is right, it gives you the courage to do the same…
whether we’re talking about sports or something else. We see this everywhere. When the CWHL ended, it opened up a conversation about what needs to change. And the players took a real courageous step forward, made a statement, and were willing to fight for what they believe in. Seeing that brings courage for others…just how we were inspired here by what we saw in women’s soccer, what these players in Sweden are doing is contagious.
It becomes a bigger conversation and people start to understand the issues more and why it’s such an important fight. Now, for us, we’re not in the same fight as women’s soccer because ours is about opportunity not pay equity, but it’s still a contagious mentality. When people see this courage, it inspires others to step up and fight for what they believe in.
TG: Courage is definitely contagious. Do you think the way forward for women’s hockey is through an NHL partnership, or is there an opportunity to grow with the PWHPA structure that’s being established this year?
JH: Well, long term, we need to have the resources and infrastructure in place to have a sustainable league, and we just haven’t had that. We look at models like what basketball that has with the WNBA, and with soccer, and they have found success. For us, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a pro league behind us, but we do need those resources and infrastructure.
Because to build something from the ground up, it just hasn’t worked. So I don’t want to say a partnership is the only solution, but, at the same time, I do know that the solution isn’t just someone coming forward with money. We need infrastructure so that in a few years from now we aren’t in the position we were just in with the CWHL.
And we need a viable long-term solution so that little girls who are five or six years old today won’t be going through what we went through. We need something that’s consistent year over year. Something that the next generation can aspire to, and can know will be a part of their future.
TG: It’s really awesome to think about the long-term health of women’s hockey and not just the short term. Is there anything else you want to say to hockey fans and potential supporters?
JH: I think, if you support the movement, be there. Be a part of it. Let the athletes see you. The first showcase is coming up in about four weeks. I want the athletes to step on the ice and see all of these people there because they believe in what they’re doing. The players took this bold move to do this, and for them to be able to get to skate out in front of an arena full of people will give them validity that they made the right move. This has been a process for them. Be a part of the movement. Be there. Show up.
Want more of Jayna Hefford? Check out another interview here!
🏆It's the start of something new
The GIST: We watched live sports this weekend, and boy oh boy was it glorious. But (Debbie Downer alert!), unless you’re into soccer or golf, it looks like it will be a while before we see some variety.
Tell me everything!: Hyun Kyung Park won the Korean LPGA Championship, current men’s world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson won $1,850,000 (all for charity!) in the TaylorMade Driving Relief exhibition skins match, and Germany’s pro soccer league Bundesliga kicked off the season restart with a weekend full of matches. Oh, and there was a NASCAR race yesterday too. Vroom vroom.
- All of these events were, of course, held without spectators in an effort to maintain physical distancing restrictions. But the players didn’t seem to mind, and so many fans watched from home that TV viewing records were set.
Any progress from other sports?: The MLB has laid out a bunch of new rules for their players and teams for once the season starts (including no spitting and no mascots...seriously), but they’re still pleading with the players union to allow them to plan for a Fourth of July weekend start. They said the league will stand to lose an average of $640k for every game that’s played without fans. Ouch.
- The NHL is said to be making headway on their proposed 24-team playoff format, and the NFL is allowing teams to open training facilities tomorrow in areas where lockdown restrictions have been relaxed, so the usual September start date is looking good. *crosses fingers, toes and eyes*
Any bad news?: Just a bit. The tennis season suspension has been extended, with the WTA and ATP announcing that all tournaments until late July have been canceled. The LPGA moved their target date from June to late July as well; however, the PGA is holding fast to their June 11th start. Weird flex but okay. And the MLS pushed their training moratorium to June 1st.
Can we end on a good note?: Sure thing. Basketball superstar LeBron James hosted his Graduate Together special this weekend to give the class of 2020 a proper send off, and he invited some friends to the party. Fellow superstar athletes Megan Rapinoe and Alex Rodriguez appeared to say a few words, and former president Barack Obama gave the commencement speech. Cue tears.
🏆What to expect when we’re expecting…
The GIST: In a normal world, we’d be just two months away from the Olympics. But this isn’t a normal world, is it? Instead, we’re looking ahead to summer 2021 and trying to figure out what the heck to expect from the Olympic Games.
What do we know?: On Friday, Olympic organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto gave an update on the postponed Games and warned us that next summer’s Games will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen...but not in a good way. Muto was vague on details but let us know that the 2020 Games will be unconventional. How ominous.
- Muto said the committee is exploring cuts to certain traditional features of the Games, for both cost-saving and health measures. Most cuts have yet to be decided, but he did mention the torch relay as the first victim. They’ll need a lot of cuts to cover the loss incurred from postponing, which is estimated to be between $2 to $6 billion. Seems like losing money is v. on trend these days (isn’t that right, MLB?).
What don’t we know?: A lot. There are still a ton of questions surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, including how many athletes will be able to compete, where they will stay and, most importantly, how everyone will be kept safe and healthy throughout the Games. And let’s not forget, the Beijing Winter Olympic Games are still set to start just six months later, in February 2022 — while very exciting for fans, it could be a logistical nightmare for organizers.
- The other big question: will the Tokyo Olympics even happen? This global pandemic is full of unknowns, so unfortunately there’s still a chance for cancelation. But with a potential loss of tens of billions (yup, that’s a “b”) if it's canceled, you better believe the organizing committee will do its very best to stick to the plan.
🏆A celebration to last throughout the years
The GIST: It’s mid-May, which means we’re smack-dab in the middle of Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month in the US and Asian Heritage Month in Canada. So today we’re celebrating the successes of five North American female athletes of Asian descent who’ve proven their power on a global scale.
Michelle Kwan: This beloved retired American figure skater is hands down one of the greatest figure skaters of all time. Known for her consistency and creative expression (including her beautiful spiral), Kwan is the most decorated figure skater in US history, with nine US championships, five World championships and two Olympic medals under her belt, er, dress.
- Along with Kristi Yamaguchi who came before her, Kwan was a role model for the next generation of aspiring Asian American skaters, including Olympic bronze-medalist Mirai Nagasu.
Julie Chu: Sticking with the ice theme, retired hockey player Julie Chu became the first Asian American to play for the US Olympic hockey team, in 2002. The former captain is a four-time Olympic medalist, five-time World champion and Harvard graduate. What, like it’s hard?
- Chu and her wife, former Canadian hockey captain Caroline Ouellette (talk about keeping your enemy close…), now coach university hockey together and just welcomed baby number two to the family. S’cute!
Carol Huynh: You don’t want to mess with Carol Huynh. The now retired wrestler is a two-time Olympic medalist (winning gold in Beijing in 2008 before earning a bronze in London four years later) and 11-time national champion. Huynh was her family’s first Canadian-born child after they immigrated as refugees from Vietnam.
Mohini Bhardwaj: Who doesn’t love a comeback kid? Born in Philadelphia to an Indian father and Russian mother, Mohini Bhardwaj was an All-American gymnast at UCLA and a star on the national team before an injury forced her to retire in 2002.
- Eager to get back competing but low on funds, Bhardwaj found unlikely financial support from actress Pamela Anderson and was able to return to glory and become the first Indian-American gymnast to medal at the Olympics, winning a silver in Athens in 2004. Amazing.
Chloe Kim: At the ripe age of 17, American Chloe Kim became the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding medal when she won gold in the women’s snowboard halfpipe in 2018, taking both the snowboarding world and Twitter world by storm (thanks to her relatable AF tweets).
- According to her, she is, “so proud to get to represent the Asian American community every time I go out and compete. We're badass, and I hope that the world sees that. It's an honor I wear proudly.”
🏆Let’s get it started
The GIST: Okay, don’t look now, but we’re pretty sure we see live sports on the horizon. Like, real, professional, honest-to-goodness sports.
Sports? Here? Now?!: Yes! Let’s start with soccer. Germany’s Bundesliga starts on Saturday, and even if you don’t sprechen Deutsch, you can still be super pumped. Meanwhile, England’s Premier League is looking at a June 1st return, while Italy’s Serie A has a start date set for June 13th.
- Here in North America, the MLS is looking at running a tournament in Florida, while the NWSL is ramping up to next month’s season start date (knock on wood), allowing individual, on-field practice for players (in states that have relaxed lockdowns, of course). There are still a ton of safeguards in place to ensure safety though, including wearing face masks everywhere but on the field, temperature checks and goal post sanitization.
Cool! Any other sports?: Golf is back too. And it’s a pretty safe sport to play right now considering it’s played outdoors, has individualized gameplay and most players wear gloves anyway. The South Korean women’s golf tour starts today (!!!) with the KLPGA Championship in Seoul. Although no North Americans are playing, three of the top 10 women’s players in the world are, so we’re v. much here for it.
- The PGA has had a June 11th start date set for a while, and now they have a pretty comprehensive safety plan to ensure everything goes well. They’ve chartered planes for all players, caddies and tour officials to travel to the first four tournaments and will house everyone in a “bubble” environment with regular health checks and testing.
Well, that’s exciting: Tell us about it! The MLB has a tenative plan to return, too. The proposal, which has the 2020 season starting during the Fourth of July long weekend (fun, right?), was approved by team owners on Monday, and now they just need the players’ union to agree (which might not be so easy).
- The NHL still hasn’t made any decisions, but league commissioner Gary Bettman has high hopes the season will be salvaged. And this week, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that he’ll make a decision on the season in the next two to four weeks. So, an announcement announcing another announcement. Cool.
Weird. But you’re telling me I get to watch sports this weekend, right?: We sure are. In addition to soccer and KLPGA, four of the best male golfers in the world are facing off in a charity skins match called TaylorMade Driving Relief. Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson will play against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff for $3 million (all of which will go to charity). Practice your golf claps tonight.