🏒Jayna Hefford Pt 2
After our first interview with Hockey Hall of Famer and five-time Olympian Jayna Hefford (NBD) in August 2019, we recently re-connected with the current Operations Consultant for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) to follow up on how things are going during this “gap year” and what’s next for women’s hockey.
Lexie, at The GIST (TG): So! A lot has happened between the CWHL folding in May, and where the PWHPA is now. What has surprised or excited you the most this year?
Jayna Hefford (JH): First, taking a look at our partner profile and seeing the support we’ve received from companies who haven’t traditionally been in women’s hockey and have stepped up in really big ways is exciting (Editor’s note: adidas, Budweiser Canada, Secret, the NHLPA and others recently stepped up as of the PWHPA this year). That’s big, and has happened in such a short amount of time.
The second thing that excites me is looking back at the . We went from four of our players being invited to participate in the skills competition (Editor’s note: I mean, can you really forget Kendall Coyne-Schofield or #PayDecker?) last year, to 20 PWHPA players this year playing in a dedicated 3v3 game. That alone is progress, but seeing the women skate out with an NHL crest on their jersey was significant. The NHL could have put a Maple Leaf or stars and stripes on the players’ jerseys, but the choice to put their NHL logo on these women means they really stand behind us.
TG: That is a great point about the message of support sent by the NHL with putting the PWHPA players in their jersey.
JH: These are really big ones for us. In Philadelphia (February 29th - March 1st), we’re working with Flyers Charities, and in Arizona (March 6th - March 8th) we’re working entirely with Coyotes organization.
This is really important for us, because we believe this is what the women’s game needs. For our sport to be successful, we need infrastructure, we need marketing, and we need access to these resources to effectively market the women’s game in a way we’ll see results from.
Philadelphia from the beginning has been incredibly engaged and is very ingrained in women’s hockey and wants to see the growth, and it shows. With Arizona, the Coyotes came to us, and they’ve been really excited to bring the women’s game there. Southern markets in hockey in general have had to work really hard to drive their fanbases, so they know the work that growing the game takes.
We saw that similar understanding in Anaheim earlier this month where a record was set for the largest attendance for a women’s hockey game in the U.S. So the Coyotes are very engaged and they have been from the beginning. They have a great minor girls’ organization and they know the importance of bringing the women’s game, and its players, to their young girls and the next generation of female hockey players.
So moving towards more of these styles of events where we partner with the NHL clubs is big for us. We’ve always known we need infrastructure and proper resources to be successful.
Image c/o @PWHPA
TG: Speaking of the attendance record set in Anaheim for the biggest crowd EVER to watch women’s hockey on American soil (yes!), what does that say for the PWHPA and opportunities moving forward?
JH: Our goal is always to try to grow the game globally (Editor’s note: On Monday, the PWHPA their recently announced first trip outside of North America to Japan), but with most of our players in North America, we’re really focused on these markets.
But the thing is, the work that Anaheim put in to market that event is a direct correlation to the results. Women’s sports are underrepresented in media and under resourced in administration, marketing, and beyond. So when you have those resources in place, that’s when you see direct results with attendance and revenue.
Hats off to Anaheim and their efforts from the beginning. They upped their marketing efforts, ran in-game promotions, leveraged their players alongside the national players, and it all paid off. They had a goal to set the record for the biggest attendance, and they did, but that was not by chance.
So, that’s the key point. They were committed to growing the game. And when the appetite is there and you have the necessary resources and put the work into it, that’s how you see success. That’s what we need.
TG: Very, very true. Now that it’s almost been a full traditional hockey season of operating the PWHPA, what have been the biggest learnings for you?
JH: It’s really around how the conversation has changed. When the CWHL folded we unfortunately had to go through a difficult time of sorting out what was the best way forward with women’s hockey. We learned that a lot of people do care and really want to see the sport grow. So we want to continue to grow it.
Through women’s hockey, we can develop more female leaders, and keep girls in sport longer. So what we’re doing is bigger than just hockey. We can influence society in a positive way, and we’ve had partners jump on who recognize that. For us, we aren’t saying women should make the same money as men right now, that’s not where our fight is...but we believe in equal opportunity and investment in sport and that all comes back to resources and infrastructure. In women’s hockey, we’ve never been given that opportunity. The quality of our product and performance has been there, but we haven’t had the infrastructure and resources to get it where it needs to be.
TG: Absolutely. That’s such an important distinction, and a conversation that’s been coming up a lot lately across women’s sports, where equality in sports doesn’t just mean equal pay.
JH: Yes. And every sport is in a different place, and having different conversations. Right now, women’s soccer is at a point in their sport where their fight is around pay equity. That’s where they are and what they deserve.
Women’s basketball is still growing. The WNBA commissioner was asked, “how do you invest when you’re not making money?” She responded, that question can just as easily be asked with men’s sports. Because the fact is, many men’s sports don’t make money, or didn’t make money. But when you put money and resources towards it, that’s when you see growth, success and profits. Now, the WNBA is at a point where they’re going to see an increase in revenue and performance which will all continue to grow the game.
Right now, we are behind those sports with our challenges and where we are in the process, but we want to get there. It all just starts with investment.
TG: So true. Now, looking forward, any idea what is next after this year? Any updates for the future of the PWHPA?
JH: We’re in the middle of those conversations. Right now, we’re just looking to continue to provide opportunities for players to play, and we’ll go from there. This year we set the stage, so looking forward, the question is, “How do we get better? How do we do more events? How do we make our events better? How do we provide more opportunities for all of our athletes?”
That’s a big thing for us because providing enough opportunities for all of our athletes in the PWHPA has been a big challenge. So, we want to do more of that (Editor’s note: the PWHPA has over 200 players in its’ association to account for). We want to try to build within the NHL and its organizations, and continue to see what kind of events we can run.
We can still do a lot better. But right now, we’re trying to focus on short-term and continuing to improve. We don’t know how long that short term is, but we’re just going to keep working hard for the sport and players.
TG: When you look back a few months ago when you started with the PWHPA, are you more or less where you thought you would be at this point?
JH: The idealistic part of me thought maybe we’d be further along and talking more about a pro league with an established league, but realistically that’s not happening overnight. That’s where having a resource like Billie Jean King with us has been crucial, to help remind us that it’s not going to happen overnight.
She shared a quote with us,
“When you leave history it feels long, when you read it it feels short.”
It’s a great reminder, and to think we could do this in less than a year and get to an established place, was unrealistic...but we are overall optimistic for the sport.
We all believe in hockey and the impact it can have on our current and future generations. So right now, we just continue to push, amplify the women’s game and work to grow it.
That's #thegistof it.
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.”