"If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?"
Six-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix joined the growing body of female athletes speaking out about the challenges of obtaining guarantees for maternity protection in sponsorship contracts.
Felix revealed in an op-ed with The New York Times that her contract talks with Nike came to a "standstill" after she asked Nike to guarantee she wouldn't be punished for not performing her best in the months following childbirth.
"What I’m not willing to accept is the enduring status quo around maternity," Felix wrote. "I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I wouldn’t be punished if I didn’t perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth. I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?"
Felix said that she was negotiating a new contract with the brand in 2018 when she decided to start a family. She gave birth to her daughter Camryn on Nov. 28, 2018, after experiencing complications during her pregnancy and undergoing an emergency C-section at 32 weeks.
Felix added that Nike wanted to pay her 70% less than it did before childbirth. She also said she "felt pressure to return to form as soon as possible" after her daughter's birth.
Nike issued a statement last Friday, after runners Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher spoke to the Times about pregnancy and sponsorship issues, saying it would change its pregnancy policy to include protection in its contracts. Altra, Nuun and Brooks also agreed to guarantee contractual support of female athletes through pregnancy moving forward.
"Last year we standardized our approach across all sports to support our female athletes during pregnancy, but we recognize we can go even further," Nike's statement said. "Moving forward, our contracts for female athletes will include written terms that reinforce our policy.
"Our mission has always been to support athletes as they strive to be their best. We want to make it clear today that we support women as they decide how to be both great mothers and great athletes. We recognize we can do more and that there is an important opportunity for the sports industry to evolve to support female athletes."
Felix wrote in the Times that she "applauds Nike for seeing that change was necessary" and looks forward to what specifics the brand and others will include in contracts to protect its female athletes during pregnancy.
"Pregnancy is not messing up; for women it can and should be able to be part of a thriving professional athletic career, as my teammates have shown and I hope to show too. And I dream of a day when we don’t have to fight in order to try," Felix wrote. "Protection during maternity isn’t just limited to Olympians; working women all over the U.S. deserve protection when they have children. We shouldn’t have to rely on companies to do the right thing. Our families depend on it."