On Sunday, which marked mother’s day in the United Kingdom, Nike launched a marketing campaign to promote its new maternity line. Soon after, some of the track and field pros who had paid a price for becoming mothers while under Nike sponsorship contracts responded to the widely circulated ad that celebrated the strength of pregnant athletes.
“This ad is beautiful and heartbreaking,” Allyson Felix wrote on Twitter. “It celebrates all the right things but seems to ignore the struggle it took to get to this point.”
I think you should watch this ad. It reminds mothers that they are athletes. It celebrates mothers. It speaks truth. It’s powerful. It’s brilliant marketing. I agree with every word in this ad. I also think you should watch this ad so that you will hold Nike accountable for it. https://t.co/WgooNqPsy7
— Allyson Felix (@allysonfelix) March 15, 2021
Nike has not yet responded to a request for comment sent on Monday by Women’s Running.
Felix, a six-time Olympic gold medalist and 11-time world champion sprinter, was once a star of commercials for Nike. But she, along with former Nike-sponsored athletes Kara Goucher and Alysia Montaño, went public in 2019 about their struggles as mothers or mothers-to-be under their contracts with the brand, which reduced pay or ceased paying pro runners when they were unable to compete for any reason, including pregnancy.
“I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I wouldn’t be punished if I didn’t perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth,” wrote Felix, who gave birth in 2018 to her daughter, Camryn, in a New York Times op-ed. “I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?”
Goucher, a world championship silver medalist in the 10,000 meters and two-time Olympian, told the New York Times in 2019 that Nike stopped paying her until she started racing again after giving birth to her son, Colton, in 2010. While pregnant, she made several unpaid appearances for Nike and waited more than four months to announce her pregnancy so that the brand could leverage it for a Mother’s Day splash.
Since then, Nike has said it changed its policies for sponsored athletes who become pregnant, stipulating that it would not apply performance-related reductions in pay for 18 months, beginning eight months prior to the due date.
“I appreciate that they have made changes, but I have received no apology or acknowledgment from Nike on how I and many other mother athletes were treated,” Goucher responded on an Instagram post about the new ad. “Or received the pay they withheld from me. But I am happy to see the improvement and hopefully the next generation won’t have to suffer the way I, and so many other athletes, did.”
Ignited by her own experiences as a pro pregnant runner, Montaño recently founded nonprofit organization &Mother to provide support for athletes who are mothers and promote structural change within the sports industry to end maternal discrimination.
“I just knew that I wanted to push forward and actually make a tangible change,” she told Women’s Running in May.
Since then, &Mother, along with Cadenshae, an athletic maternity apparel brand, announced it would support three current track and field athletes who are moms—Dawn Harper-Nelson, Sara Vaughn, and Olicia Williams—as they pursue the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials and the Tokyo Games this summer.
Colleen Quigley, a 2016 Olympic steeplechaser, who recently announced that she has left the Bowerman Track Club to pursue sponsorship opportunities outside of Nike, tweeted support on Monday for Felix and others who reacted to the new maternity campaign.
“Can’t watch this ad without thinking of the women who had to suffer under Nike in order to become mothers before Allyson decided to put her foot down and demand change,” Quigley wrote. “It feels important to me that people know who gets the credit for this progress to value moms within Nike.”