The National Women’s Hockey League continues to undergo changes in its front office. Anya Packer, the former director of the NWHL Players Association, has been named the general manager of the Metropolitan Riveters. The NWHLPA will look for someone to take over Packer’s role as director.
The Riveters’ former general manager, Kate Whitman Annis, is taking over founder Dani Rylan Kearney’s role as the Director of Operations for the W Hockey Partners after Kearne’s departure from the NWHL last month. As director of the league’s ownership group for the four teams without private ownership, Whitman Annis will work to sell the Riveters, Beauts, Whale, and Whitecaps franchises.
Anya Packer played for the Boston Blades (CWHL) and Connecticut Whale (NWHL) before retiring to focus on her role as director of the NWHLPA. During the four years under Packer’s tenure, the NWHLPA accomplished a 50% increase to the salary cap and a 50/50 revenue share that raised player salaries by 30%. Anya Packer also has a personal connection to the Metropolitan Riveters, being married to the captain and franchise point leader, Madison Packer.
The Metropolitan Riveters struggled with a number of critical issues in the 2020-2021 season, including player relations, bigotry, and safety measures. Per reporting from Marisa Ingemi, a group of Riveters players asked the league to remove Whitman Annis because of “communication issues, disagreement about how some decisions were handled.” The Riveters faced controversy during the tournament after players and staff members got involved with a racist and misogynistic organization that harassed league employees, showed hostility to teammates who spoke out against the bigotry, and endorsed targeted harassment of players and journalists.
The situation has been written about more in-depth here and here. As a result, the failure to address racism in the Riveters’ locker room made the work environment hostile and unsafe for players and media members. It will be a steep hill to climb for Anya Packer as she enters her first year at the helm. While she is moving to a less player-facing role, it raises red flags to promote Whitman Annis after players had asked for her removal and how the team handled their time at Lake Placid.
Whitman Annis isn’t the only front office member with strained relations to some Riveters’ players, as Riveters Director of Hockey Operations Gabrielle Gjelaj made an Instagram story calling players toxic for not wanting the team to welcome an organization that has a history of violent bigotry. The statement seemed directed at Saroya Tinker, who was the first to speak out and the team’s only Black player. Gjelaj implied that the players who took a stand against racism shouldn’t complain, as they had once accepted sandwiches from someone in the organization whose values they questioned.
The bigotry at Lake Placid was not the only serious issue players could have disagreed with the handling of, as the Riveters’ were the first team to withdraw from Lake Placid after positive Covid-19 cases. While not confirmed, many inferred that the Riveters had a positive Covid case before leaving for Lake Placid with a player they were recently in contact with. The lack of transparency around the infection and potential spread of Covid-19 by Whitman Annis and others may have resulted in dissatisfaction from other players.
Anya Packer will enter season seven looking to build both a winning team and one that is safe to all fans and players. How she goes forward with members of the organization like Gjelaj and others who contributed to the team’s concerning off-ice conduct will be an indicator of how committed she is to achieving that. Meanwhile, the NWHLPA will restructure as the league continues to grow. In addition to legal proceedings like looking to make the leagues first collective bargaining agreement, the NWHLPA will need to work on ensuring safety for their most vulnerable players.
Image courtesy of Michelle Jay- NWHL