SHE SHOOTS, SHE SCORES!
February 17, 1998
At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, the first gold medal ever awarded in women's hockey went to the United States. The U.S. team beat Canada 3-1. Erin Whitten, the first American woman to play hockey professionally, and Lucy Danziger, the founding editor of a monthly sports magazine for women, discuss the victory and what it means for the future of professional women's hockey.
PHIL PONCE: It was the first time women had ever taken the stand for winning an Olympic medal in hockey. And it was the U.S. team who won the gold by beating top-ranked Canada 3-1. The game, played today at Big Hat Arena in Nagano, Japan, in front of a sold-out crowd, was scoreless till midway when the United States took the lead.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
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Is women's basketball here to stay?
June 17, 1997
A look back at Title IX, which requires gender equity in collegiate sports.
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1998 Winter Games
American Women's Hockey Coaches Association
Unlike the men, the women are not allowed to check each other, to body block, but there's still plenty of physical contact. With a one-nothing lead, Team USA struck again. Canada then answered with a goal of its own. United States Goalie Sara Tueting may have clinched the gold with this save, late in the game.
These players--unlike the men--do not have their own professional league to turn to. For now, it's an amateur sport. According to the USA Hockey Federation, in 1990 only 5,500 girls played in organized hockey leagues. That number is now up to more than 20,000. The National Collegiate Athletic Association currently recognizes 22 varsity women's hockey programs. These programs can now give athletic scholarships. One sign of the sport's growing popularity: some members of the Olympic team endorse a sports equipment company that specializes in women's hockey gear. Whatever growth the sport may see in the future, these athletes are assured of a place in its history.
Women's hockey receives newfound respect.
PHIL PONCE: For more on women's hockey we're joined by Lucy Danziger, the founding editor-in-chief of Conde Nast Sports for Women, a monthly magazine launched last October, and Erin Whitten, the first American woman to play hockey professionally. She tended goal for four men's teams from 1993 to 1996, and she also played on the U.S. National Team with some of the Olympians who won today. Welcome both. Ms. Danziger, your reaction to the victory by the United States women.
LUCY DANZIGER, Conde Nast Sports for Women: I was really excited. We've been following this team all along, and they've played Canada numerous times, and they've split in all these games, so it really could have gone either way. Canada is a hockey power, and it's amazing that our women pulled it out. I'm thrilled for them.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Whitten.
ERIN WHITTEN, U.S. Women's National Hockey Team: It's definitely a great feeling. I've been part of the team since '92 really. There's been a core part of us. And to finally see the U.S. beat Canada in a gold medal game is just an amazing feeling.
More finesse and slower play: the difference between men's and women's hockey.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Whitten, we talked about some of the differences in the women's game versus the men's game, the fact that there's no checking, no body blocking. What are the other differences that spectators would see?
ERIN WHITTEN: Well, I think it's a little bit of a slower game, the women's game, but at the same time you're going to get a lot of the finesse game, a lot of passing. You have to find a way around the body checking so it tends to be a little more wide open, and then again a little more concentrated down by the goal tender; there are a lot of close-in shots and a lot of rebounds, and things that are a little different from the men.
PHIL PONCE: Some observers have said that the women hockey players are playing hockey now the way the men used to play before they got into all the fighting and all the violence and that sort of thing. Is that a fair way to describe it?
ERIN WHITTEN: I think it is. You know, I know that the men's game has turned a bit violent; it has turned to, you know, you're going to see two or three fights a game half the time in the NHL, and that's something that you're going to not see in the women's game. It's more of a pure sport, and I guess that's the way the men's game used to be played.
Today's stars were yesterday's tomboys.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Danziger, a lot of people are wondering where do these hockey players come from? Where did they come from? For a lot of folks this may have come as a surprise, the fact that there is this--this interest in women's hockey.
LUCY DANZIGER: Well, what we've seen is that girls for the first time are being given a choice, whether they want to wear hockey skates or figure skates when they're little, and this is a first generation of girls that were brought up on hockey skates. These players didn't necessarily figure skate until they were nine or ten and then go to a hockey program--then pee wee hockey with their brothers and their dads have been coaching them, and they were always the only girl on the team. And they took a lot of heat for that out there. So these players have been resilient, they've been committed to this game since they were little, and I think that's terrific.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Whitten, how did you get started?
ERIN WHITTEN: I actually was a little tomboy and in my neighborhood it was a big hockey hotbed of a town, and I followed the boys basically right into hockey. They were playing football and everything else, and I decided if they were going to go into hockey later, I would follow them in, so from eight years old on I just played with the boys until college. Then I started with the women.
PHIL PONCE: So, in other words, you played on boys teams as a young girl?
ERIN WHITTEN: I did. That was really the only opportunity for me when I was little. It's so different these days. Now there's opportunities for girls to play girl's hockey growing up, which may draw a lot more females into the sport, so they're not, you know, so afraid to jump right into the male sport. But, you know, when I was growing up, there was really no option, other than the boy's hockey.
PHIL PONCE: And, Ms. Whitten, what was the appeal of hockey to you?
ERIN WHITTEN: You know what, it was really kind of an appeal, just visual. I used to go to the hockey games--in my hometown--used to go to the games and watch them play and I was just attracted to the game right away, and then when I get on to skates, you couldn't get 'em off of me, I love the game, and I love the skates, and I just wanted to play more and more every day.
For women's hockey this win is "huge."
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Danziger, what is the--how big is this for the sport of hockey?
LUCY DANZIGER: I think it's huge. We've seen this happen with the soccer players in 1996 in Atlanta, with the softball players, and suddenly these girls are household names. Everyone knows who Dot Richardson is and who Mia Hamm is--now they're going to be talking about Cammi Granato and the rest of these players; it's so exciting for us to see a whole new generation of girls look up to this team and they'll be able to go into hockey. There are more and more teams, as you mentioned in your opener. I even see moms getting into hockey because they take their kids out to play, they think it looks like fun, and they start booking ice time, and the interesting thing is the mothers that we know who are playing are booking the best ice time, Friday nights at supper, and they make it a family occasion and they all go down to the rink and the moms play. So I think this is only going to spur a lot more growth in hockey across the country.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Danziger, you mentioned the names of three women. Who are there for our viewers who aren't following hockey as closely as you?
LUCY DANZIGER: I was comparing Cammi Granato, who was the standout star of this team--although God knows--she's got some amazing teammates--to Mia Hamm, who's a really well-known soccer player right now, who's a gold medalist and the high scorer on the women's soccer team that won in Atlanta, and Dot Richardson, who made a name for herself as a gold medalist on a softball team. I think what happens now is we see these individuals as someone to look up to on team sports, and that's really the first time it's been happening for women.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Whitten, do you see the young girls that are coming up now looking to some of these women that Ms. Danziger mentioned as role models, women such as yourself too?
A new group of female role models.
ERIN WHITTEN: I definitely think so. I mean, growing up, I didn't really have any female rolemodels to look up to as far as hockey was concerned. I looked up to John Ban Beezbrook, you know, and other goal tenders in the NHL, and now Cammi I know gets a lot of attention and she gets a lot of people and players coming up to her and little girls saying I want to be like you, and it's just an amazing feeling. I've had it happen to me as well; it's an amazing feeling to know you're contributing to the life of a younger athlete, somebody who really wants to go up and play but didn't know they could until they saw you, and it's just an amazing feeling to have that.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Whitten, you tried out for the women's Olympic team and you didn't make it. That must be a huge disappointment for you, especially on a day like today.
ERIN WHITTEN: It was a disappointment. At the same time, you know, there is a course that my life is following, and I don't know that yet. You know, that's something that I'll take each change and each course as it goes, but right now, you know, I'm happy for the U.S. team, I'm happy that they did well, and I have a lot of friends on that team, and I've been a goalie for that team since '92, so it was hard for me to come to this point and not follow it all the way through to the Olympics, but I don't plan on giving up hockey and I plan on trying to stick around until 2002, see if I can catch another one.
The prospects for women's professional hockey look good.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Whitten, one of the things you're working on now is the establishment of women's professional hockey. How likely is that and how much is what happened in the Olympics going to help that?
ERIN WHITTEN: Well, there are a lot of actually progressions that are going on right now, the lease agreements are out to the different buildings, and we're going to come back with hopefully four rinks, and should be 20 players per team, and it's going to be an exciting time. Hopefully that will start this fall; there's a lot of work that still needs to be done, but as long as we get the commitment from the players that are willing to participate from the national teams and from the former college players from around the area, then we're going to have a go at it.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Danziger, what do you think the prospects are for women's professional hockey?
LUCY DANZIGER: I think as long as they are happy with a grassroots beginning I think it could really work. I went to see the U.S. team play down at Chelsea Piers for an exhibition match, and it had a pretty good turnout, and that was just a really casual event which was not well advertised beforehand. But I think that one of the things that will draw people to hockey is the same thing that makes people want to watch basketball for women, which is that the game has a really skill purity level that you don't see as much with the men's game. When you watch women's hockey, the passing is so precise, the plays are executed so well, you could practically diagram a play after you've watched it, and I have to say, I think it's pretty physical. When I first met Cammi Granato, she had a shiner; it was a really big black eye, and she'd just gotten it from the Canadian team. So these guys are out there playing for real, and they still have the skill levels, and that's what draws people in.
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Danziger, Ms. Whitten, thank you both very much.