After elite runner Alysia Montaño called out an apparent disconnect between Nike’s portrayal of female sports stars in its ad campaigns and its actual treatment of athletes when they become pregnant, two legislators said they would open an inquiry into the matter.
Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) on Friday sent a letter to Nike chairman Mark Parker pressing the Beaverton, Ore.-based company for details on how it handles paying athletes “who are pregnant, breastfeeding or in the postpartum period.”
Beutler and Roybal-Allard serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Maternity Care.
“We are deeply concerned by recent reports that Nike has reduced sponsorship payments, or ceased payment entirely, for female athletes during their pregnancy and postpartum recovery,” the congresswomen wrote in a letter obtained by FN. “It has also been reported that Nike has required sponsored athletes to engage in unpaid work activities and appearances during their pregnancy.”
The New York Times reported on May 12 that the company at one time wrote contracts for its female track and field athletes that reduced payments — and sometimes paid them nothing at all — if they weren’t able to compete for a variety of reasons, including pregnancy and the subsequent postpartum period.
After considerable public backlash, Nike admitted last week that it had previously reduced contracts of female athletes but said it had amended that policy in 2018. On Friday, the company added — via a statement on its corporate site — that it would take further steps to support female athletes through their pregnancies.
“Moving forward, our contracts for female athletes will include written terms that reinforce our policy,” the statement read. “Our mission has always been to support athletes as they strive to be their best. We want to make it clear today that we support women as they decide how to be both great mothers and great athletes. We recognize we can do more and that there is an important opportunity for the sports industry to evolve to support female athletes.”
For her part, Rep. Roybal-Allard said today that she was still “deeply concerned.”
“I’ve been deeply concerned by news that Nike has stopped or slashed sponsorships for pregnant and postpartum athletes,” she wrote on Twitter. “I’m seeking a full accounting from Nike with @HerreraBeutler. Athletes, including mothers & mothers-to-be, deserve fair treatment in every stage of their career.”
The letter from the congresswomen asks Nike seven pointed questions about its pay fairness policies and company contracts with female athletes who are pregnant. It also asks if the company had ever required male athletes to engage in unpaid work activities or appear on the brand’s behalf after becoming a father. What’s more, the inquiry asks if Nike ever stopped sponsorship payments to male athletes who became fathers.
“Given Nike’s public support of equal treatment and fairness for all people (e.g., its sponsorship of Justin Gallegos, the runner with cerebral palsy, the ‘Dream With Us’ February 2019 commercial, ‘Dream Crazier’ May 2019 commercial, ‘Just Do It’ ad featuring Colin Kaepernick September 2018), the reported instances of pay inequality and workplace discrimination against mothers do not seem to fit with its mission,” it states.