Serena Williams Defends Nike After Backlash Over Maternity Pay Policy

Serena Williams is defending Nike after the sportswear giant faced backlash over its previous maternity policy for female runners.

Following her first-round win at the French Open on Monday, the 23-time Grand Slam winner took a moment to back up her longtime brand sponsor, which was heavily criticized in the past weeks for its treatment of pregnant athletes.

“They’re doing better, and that’s what it’s about,” Williams said at the post-match press conference. “It’s about learning from mistakes and doing better.”

On Mother’s Day, Nike took heat when a New York Times article revealed that the contracts of sponsored runners Kara Goucher and Alysia Montaño were reduced during their pregnancies and the subsequent postpartum period.

Olympic track-and-field champion Allyson Felix added her name to the roster of athletes last week, penning an emotional op-ed in which she claimed the brand felt she was worth 70% less after her contract expired in December 2017 and she decided to start a family.

On Friday, Nike announced new measures to ensure that its athletes were not financially penalized, waiving performance-based pay reductions for a 12-month period for those who have a baby.

Williams, whose relationship with Nike began in 2003, also addressed her personal experience with the athletic brand. The Swoosh memorably came to her defense after her controversial catsuit was banned last year by the French Tennis Federation.

The 37-year-old — who suffered severe post-birth complications — wore the catsuit not only as a fashion statement but also for functional purposes, with the skintight ensemble helping maintain her blood circulation through matches.

“It started with making a statement with me, and they said they want to make a change,” she added, “and they want to support women that want to have families.”

Watch FN’s interview with Nike trainer Joe Holder.

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