Nine-time Olympic medal winner Allyson Felix had a top-tier sponsorship deal with Nike but was at risk of losing her contract simply because she wanted to become pregnant.
In December of 2017, Felix’s contract came up for re-negotiation, and Felix requested that she wouldn’t suffer any monetary losses or be at risk of losing her contract because of her decision to have a child. Nike initially refused.
In response, Felix wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, stating in part, “I’ve been one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes,” read her byline. “If I can’t secure maternity protections, who can?”
In August of that year, largely because of Felix’s efforts Nike announced a new policy via email, which Felix subsequently shared with her followers on Instagram. “If ATHLETE becomes pregnant, NIKE may not apply any performance-related reductions (if any) for a consecutive period of 18 months, beginning eight months prior to ATHLETE’S due date. During such period NIKE may not apply any right of termination (if any) as a result of ATHLETE not competing due to pregnancy.”
In the caption, Felix wrote: “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.”
“Having a child felt like I’d be risking my career and disappointing everyone who expected me to always put running first,” Felix wrote in an ESPN piece last December in which she opened up about her decision to become a mother. In fact, the Olympian initially tried to hide her pregnancy from everyone in her life. But over time, it became clear she didn’t want to do that. “Why was I trying to do all this without anyone noticing I was gone? I was so excited to be pregnant. I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I feel so incredibly blessed. This shouldn’t be a secret.”
“I hoped my experiences could help other women who were worried — like I’d been for so many years — of what starting a family would mean to their careers. To let them know that I too have those anxious feelings about sharing the news with my employer, and the repercussions I could possibly face.”
Because of her unwillingness to back down and her refusal to be bullied, Felix played a large part in the reversal of Nike’s policy towards female athletes who become pregnant. However, Felix did end up moving on from Nike and signing a contract with Athleta. In an interview with Shape, Felix reminded women that, “[I]t’s about the power of the collective and empowering women to speak up and speak their truth as they do amazing things in all different fields