After several US athletes, including Alysia Montaño, six-time Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix and former elite marathoner Kara Goucher publicly criticized Nike for financially penalizing athletes who decide to start a family, the company has announced significant changes to its policies. As with many professions, it’s not unusual in US athletes’ contracts for compensation to be tied to performance, and according to a letter shared on social media by Felix, Nike has now promised no performance-related pay reductions for 18 months, dating from one month into an athlete’s pregnancy.
This effectively gives female athletes 10 months post-birth to regain their fitness and ability to compete at their pre-pregnancy level.
Felix posted: “Our voices have power. NIKE has joined in officially and contractually providing maternal protection to the female athletes they sponsor. This means that female athletes will no longer be financially penalized for having a child. I’m grateful to John Slusher and Mark Parker for their leadership and their desire to guide NIKE as a company who believes that we are all more than athletes. And THANK YOU to the brands who have already made this commitment. Who is next?”
Montaño made an impassioned statement about the situation via a video for the New York Times in May 2019. Shortly after that, Felix testified before the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee hearing on overcoming racial disparities in the maternal mortality crisis. (Felix underwent an emergency C-section in November 2018, and her daughter Camryn spent several months in the NICU.)
Felix, whose contract renewal negotiations with Nike stalled over the issue, signed a sponsorship deal with the women’s sportswear brand Athleta earlier this month.