Nike’s latest advertisement is receiving mixed reactions from athletes and sports fans on social media. The ad, which includes the caption, “To every mother, everywhere: you are the toughest athlete,” features several clips of pregnant women and mothers participating in sports, and appears to be the company’s way of showing their support to pregnant athletes. While the ad is a step in the right direction for the company, many athletes, including Allyson Felix, Kara Goucher and Alysia Montaño, are criticizing Nike for not acknowledging their past treatment of pregnant female athletes.
I think you should watch this ad. It reminds mothers that they are athletes. It celebrates mothers. It speaks truth. It’s powerful. It’s brilliant marketing. I agree with every word in this ad. I also think you should watch this ad so that you will hold Nike accountable for it. https://t.co/WgooNqPsy7
— Allyson Felix (@allysonfelix) March 15, 2021
In 2019, Felix, Goucher and Montaño publicly criticized Nike for its treatment of sponsored athletes during and after pregnancy, and they called the company out for having no pregnancy protections in their contracts. Since then, Nike has announced a new pregnancy policy that protects female athletes from pay reductions for 18 months surrounding pregnancy. This new ad showing support for pregnant women is a welcome change and a step in the right direction, and while many athletes are supportive of it, they are pointing out one thing it’s missing: an apology.
Felix was among the first to express her opinion, which she shared in a Twitter thread. She began by praising the ad for its content, calling it powerful and saying it celebrates mothers and reminds them that they are athletes. She goes on to encourage her followers to watch the ad, but for a different reason.
“I agree with every word in this ad,” she said in a Tweet. “I also think you should watch this ad so that you will hold Nike accountable for it.”
She continues by saying that the ad was hard to watch, given her personal experience as a formerly Nike-sponsored athlete. She points out that it was she, along with several other athletes, who pushed Nike to support athletes’ maternity — a fact the ad fails to mention. Felix calls the ad “beautiful and heartbreaking,” saying that while it celebrates all the right things, it ignores the struggle it took to get to this point.
Goucher echoed Felix’s statements in a response to her thread, saying she appreciates the ad’s sentiment, but this level of support was not a reality for her or dozens of other mother runners.
“Acknowledging the way we were treated and receiving an apology (let alone the money withheld from us) would go so far,” she added.
Montaño added her comments in an Instagram post, saying while she is grateful for all the positive changes happening in the world of women’s sports, it is infuriating to watch Nike seemingly dismiss the past and fail to apologize for the experiences of past athletes.
“Yes. We want Nike to sponsor athletes and support them through pregnancy, and thereafter, but we want them to acknowledge the fight and the struggle that it took to get them to make a change,” she said. “We DO NOT WANT them to use our women to make money and while doing so forcing their athletes that have been mistreated to post advertisements as a way of sweeping their struggles under the rug.”
She goes on to highlight the work of other companies, organizations and brands who have a history of supporting women, including her own nonprofit, &Mother, and her partner brand, Cadenshae. Montaño concludes by saying that she and other athletes welcome Nike’s desire to support female athletes, but says they must rectify their former actions if they wish to do that.
Many others on Twitter and Instagram are commenting with support for the athletes, while also acknowledging the beauty and the power of the ad. This new ad by Nike is exactly the type of imagery we need to see, but coming on the heels of controversy over their treatment of pregnant athletes, it comes across as disingenuous to those who are familiar with the backstory. Nike and other brands should continue to create content like this, celebrating athletes of all genders, ethnicities and abilities, but not without first apologizing for past mistakes.