Allyson Felix’s negotiation process with Nike was stalled when she questioned the brand’s policies on paying pregnant athletes, she wrote in a New York Times op-ed this May. Now, she’s got a new deal with Athleta — and it comes with maternity protection.
The new partnership between the Gap Inc.-backed sportswear brand and the decorated track and field star was announced today. Felix will appear in Athleta’s Power of She campaign, aid in the design of performance-focused training and run product and assist with initiatives to empower women and girls through sport.
“In talking with Athleta, it quickly became clear — this was the right fit,” the athlete said in a release. “It was important for me to find a partner that championed my values.”
Felix had been a longtime Nike athlete, but she spoke out against the Swoosh in a May New York Times op-ed. The mom, who welcomed her first child in November 2018, said that she asked Nike to “contractually guarantee that [she] wouldn’t be punished if [she] didn’t perform at [her] best in the months surrounding childbirth” when renegotiating a deal that expired in December 2017. Instead, she says, she was offered 70% less compensation. (Nike did not respond to FN‘s May requests for comment about Felix’s claims.)
“I wanted to set a new standard,” she wrote. “If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could? Nike declined. We’ve been at a standstill ever since.”
Felix was not the only athlete to criticism Nike’s treatment of expectant female athletes. In a Times article published May 12, former Nike runners Kara Goucher and Alysia Montaño described their contracts being reduced during pregnancy/postpartum.
Goucher and Montaño’s accounts sparked an inquiry in May by two Congresswomen, Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.). That month, Beutler and Roybal-Allard sent a letter to Nike president and CEO Mark Parker asking pointed questions about the brand’s pay fairness policy and contracts with its pregnant athletes.
Following the criticism, the Swoosh said it had revised its policies in 2018 to “standardize our approach across all sports so that no female athlete is penalized financially for pregnancy.” However, the Oregon-based brand said it now plans to put additional protections in place following the backlash. It announced in May plans to include language in the contracts of the women it sponsors to ensure no one is financially penalized for pregnancy.
Felix is the first athlete to sign with Athleta. While the runner will solely wear the brand’s apparel on the field, it does not make footwear — so she’s on the hunt for a shoe deal, she told NBC Sports.
“We were so moved by Allyson’s purpose and passion, on and off the track, especially as she spoke to the unique experience of female athletes,” said Athleta CMO Sheila Shekar Pollak. “She is an inspiration to us all.”
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