Nike Asked Olympian Allyson Felix To Star In Female-Empowerment Ads While Quietly Fighting Her Maternity Protections

Allyson Felix is a wife and mother. She’s also the most decorated Olympian in track and field history. When Nike refused to recognize all the facets of her being, she bade them farewell and moved forward.

By Molly Farinholt2 min read
Nike Asked Olympian Allyson Felix To Star In Female-Empowerment Ads While Quietly Fighting Her Maternity Protections

Allyson Felix vs. Nike

Nike has an unfortunate history of ill treatment toward its athletes who choose motherhood. In 2018, Allyson Felix gave birth via emergency C section to her daughter Camryn Grace. In the subsequent months of new momhood, she worked to negotiate the renewal of her contract with Nike. They offered her a 70% pay cut.

In an op-ed with the New York Times, she wrote, "If that's what they think I'm worth now, I accept that. What I'm not willing to accept is the enduring status quo around maternity." She described how Nike had won her over a decade prior by convincing her that the company sought to empower young women. Since then, they have disappointed her by doing the opposite – penalizing women for fully embracing their femininity by becoming mothers.

Ironically, at the same time that she was negotiating maternity protections with her then-sponsor, they asked her to be in a female empowerment ad. Felix called it "beyond disrespectful and tone-deaf" in a recent profile with Time Magazine.

Life after Nike

Felix gracefully moved on from Nike, signing with Athleta as their first athlete sponsor. The brand understands that she’s a "whole person beyond the track." 

Part of her contract with Athleta includes provisions for her daughter to join her wherever she's competing – something Nike did not do.

Recently, Simone Biles also signed with Athleta. Clearly, the brand is doing something right!

"Nike sometimes, they feel like you don’t have another option. So they can get away with stuff like that because, where are you going to go?” Allyson told Time. She proved that she absolutely did (and does) have other options.

Allyson is now heading to her fifth Olympic Games to hopefully add to her impressive collection of nine Olympic medals. She has also started her own shoe brand, Saysh. She introduced the company on Instagram with a stunning picture of herself, wearing her Olympic medals and proudly showing off her C-section scar. The caption reads, “Introducing Saysh, a community-centered lifestyle brand that creates products for, and by, women. Founded by @allysonfelix, the most decorated track and field athlete of all time, we exist to undermine inequality with female athleticism and creativity."

On Monday, Allyson alongside her sponsor Athleta and the Women's Sports Foundation (WSF) pledged a total of $200,000 toward the childcare costs of nine mom-athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics.

To top it all off, Felix has been outspoken about her desire to grow her family following her final Games this summer. Her current focus, of course, is racing in Tokyo with her daughter there to cheer her on.

Closing Thoughts

Big brands like Nike have certainly jumped on the bandwagon of the feminist movement with their female empowerment programs and ads. Unfortunately, they are, for the most part, surface level. To truly support and empower women means to encourage them in the pursuit of their full femininity – which, for many, means motherhood. Allyson Felix can certainly be the poster child of female grit, grace, power, and beauty. We will be rooting for her as she strides towards another victory (and another pregnancy).

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