The NWHL was able to finish its Isobel Cup belatedly two weeks ago, as the Boston Pride beat the Minnesota Whitecaps. The league had something of a false start in the winter with their attempted bubble in Lake Placid that didn’t really bubble, the league was able to complete the playoffs in Boston.
You’d have hoped the league could go into their offseason without stepping in it, and prepare for what will hopefully be a much more normal 2022 season. But for a league that has gotten too cozy with BarfStool and can’t seem to do much about its racism problem, “not stepping in it” was a bridge too far.
The league’s latest trouble began last week when Melissa Burgess of The Victory Press tweeted out that Women’s Sports Policy Working Group listed Toronto Six head coach Digit Murphy as a supporter. The group is a decidedly anti-trans one, with one of its explicit goals being the exclusion of trans women from women’s sports. On the group’s site is a claim that “just one or two trans women who are decent athletes would displace a lot of females.” Which doesn’t work even on a numbers level, much less being bigoted and ignorant on a grand scale. It also seems to rule out the idea that female athletes could be decent? The Six’s Twitter account also liked a derogatory statement about the LGBTQ+ community on their feed. The problems are obvious.
It all made for curious reading for Jessica Platt, who detailed her own conversations with Toronto’s GM in a Twitter thread. Platt, a trans hockey player, had discussed joining the Six in the ill-fated Lake Placid bubble. She never ended up joining the team, a fact that carries a whole new context after Murphy’s anti-trans affiliations came to light.
More galling was that it took the league and the Six nearly a week to comment. As outrage was catching hold publicly, various other NWHL teams released statements affirming their support for trans players in the league and as a whole. Yet Toronto and the NWHL didn’t release statements of their own until Saturday, a full six days after Murphy’s support for the group was known. In those belated offerings, both said Murphy has disassociated herself from the group. But disassociating isn’t the same as condemning, and even on the morning this statement was released Murphy was still listed on the group’s website (she is no longer). Murphy is still coach of the team.
The NWHL’s policy on transgender players hasn’t met with universal acclaim in the past, as it focuses heavily on testosterone and hormone levels which have been controversial at all levels of various sports. And the criteria they’ve used has no scientific backing, just seemingly pulled out of thin air. This is the same needle that the IOC has tried to thread terribly in the case of Caster Semenya, for example.
It’s another mark against the league, which is still suffering from the boycott of most name-players in the PWHPA and its other missteps. It felt bad enough when the league showed no urge to distance itself from BarfStool, fearing it might lose fans even though almost all of its core fanbase wants nothing to do with that hellscape. And it didn’t do much when the Stoolies came after one of their players who did speak out against them, Saroya Tinker. The NWSL has proven that neophyte women’s leagues can gain a foothold and start to build a foundation for serious growth. But the NWHL keeps slipping, whether it’s this or their distasteful affiliations are continued fights with leading players who refuse to join the league.
And the NWHL shouldn’t have these obstacles. If the NWSL is built on the success of the national team, Team USA’s hockey team won the latest gold medal in dramatic fashion. At the youth level, girls hockey continues to grow. And yet, while the NWSL is collecting celebrity owners and new TV deals, the NWHL keeps finding potholes.