Track and field champion Allyson Felix is calling attention to the misogyny many female athletes encounter while seeking maternity protections during sponsorship negotiations. In an op-ed for the New York Times, the six-time Olympic gold medalist opened up about her experience as a newly pregnant athlete in contract negotiations with Nike, revealing that the talks came to a "standstill" after the brand failed to guarantee that she wouldn't be punished for under-performing in the months after childbirth.
"I’ve always known that expressing myself could hurt my career. I’ve tried not to show emotion, to anticipate what people expect from me and to do it. I don’t like to let people down. But you can’t change anything with silence," Felix wrote. She decided that she wanted to start a family in 2018, "knowing that pregnancy can be 'the kiss of death' in my industry, as the runner Phoebe Wright put it in The Times last week." However, the process was dually "frightening" for Felix, as she was in the midst of negotiating a renewal of her Nike contract, as her previous one had ended in 2017.
Nike wanted to pay her 70 percent less than the amount she earned before pregnancy, however, that wasn't the misogynistic red-line that she couldn't agree to. "What I’m not willing to accept is the enduring status quo around maternity. 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 asked. "Nike declined. We’ve been at a standstill ever since."
Alysia Montaño, an Olympic runner and three-time U.S. national champion, wrote an op-ed in the Times last week, detailing her experience and those of fellow female athletes, who got pregnant and had to renegotiate sponsorship terms with brands like Nike. Although the brand may applaud female athletes when it serves its marketing purposes, the company doesn't appear to be channeling that feminist spirit into its relationships with the women they work with. "The four Nike executives who negotiate contracts for track and field athletes are all men," Montaño wrote.
Since Montaño and Olympic runner Kara Goucher detailed the sexism, and the physical strain they endured at the hands of Nike, the company issued a statement vowing to alter their maternal protection policies. Other companies such as Altra, Nuun, and Brook had taken similar steps days earlier, however, as Felix notes, "I look forward to specifics."