A week ago, multiple Olympic gold-medallist and 11-time world champion, sprinter Allyson Felix, testified before the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee hearing on overcoming racial disparities in the maternal mortality crisis. Yesterday, in another New York Times story and video, she joined Alysia Montaño, Kara Goucher and others in publicly criticizing Nike for its treatment of sponsored athletes during and after pregnancy.
Emboldened by Olympic teammates @karagoucher and @AlysiaMontano speaking out about how sports can change for women, @allysonfelix shares her private struggle to be a mother while running for @Nike. I'm grateful she let me bring her story to @nytopinion. https://t.co/AJyUOdU0DQ
— Lindsay Crouse (@lindsaycrouse) May 22, 2019
Felix, one of the most decorated athletes in American track and field, was in the process of trying to re-negotiate her contract with Nike while planning to start a family in early 2018. She became pregnant in April, but kept it a secret for four months, continuing to compete.
Felix says she felt pressure to come back to competing as soon as possible after giving birth, even though she had spent time in the hospital with preeclampsia (often characterized by high maternal blood pressure), and her daughter Camryn was born by emergency C-section two months early, on November 28.
“While I am spending countless hours in the NICU, I’m coming home at 1:00 a.m., trying to figure out, how can I get to the gym to put a few hours in, because I know I have to be ready to run in six months. Many times I felt like I was in an impossible situation.”
“We may stand behind the brands we endorse, but we also need to hold them accountable when they are marketing us to appeal to the next generation of athletes and consumers.”
"… you can’t change anything with silence." https://t.co/OjiYMkfUEJ
— Allyson Felix (@allysonfelix) May 22, 2019
“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,” Felix says. “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 underscored the importance of such protections for black athletes, who are twice as likely as white women to suffer complications during pregnancy, such as what she experienced.
"Mothers don’t die from childbirth, right? Not in 2019, not professional athletes, not at one of the best hospitals in the country, and certainly not to women who have a birthing plan and a birthing suite lined up." – @allysonfelix https://t.co/xp0oqxd07m
— Alexandra Svokos (@asvokos) May 16, 2019
As a result of the initial New York Times story, several brands have announced new policies that are more supportive of pregnant and parenting female athletes, including Burton, Altra, Nuun and Brooks, and eventually Nike also.
Felix never reached a deal with Nike. She has not had a contract since December 2017. She says that a week before she shot the video, she asked Nike for protection around maternity, and Nike said no. She is hoping that going public about the issue will result in a contract that will allow her to compete while earning a living wage and raising a family as a professional athlete.
Some time ago, Nike offered Felix a deal that represented a 70 per cent pay cut. She says she’s now willing to accept a lower salary as long as the company guarantees protections during pregnancy and maternity that work for female athletes and their families–”not because I’m planning to have another child, but because it’s the right thing to do, and if not for myself, for people coming after me.”