When Olympic gold medalist and track and field star Allyson Felix negotiated renewing her long-held contract with Nike in 2018, things didn’t go as planned. For one, Nike wanted to pay her 70 percent less than before, a price she told the New York Times she could “accept” if that’s what Nike thought she was worth. But what she couldn’t accept? The company’s policies around maternity.
In an op-ed for the Times she wrote, “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. I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could? Nike declined.”
She had been at a standstill with the company and was looking for a new apparel deal. (Felix gave birth by emergency C-section in November 2018.) And she found one in an unlikely place: Athleta, the Gap athletic wear company. It’s the first time Athleta is sponsoring an athlete, signing a multiyear contract with Felix.
Athleta published an open letter to Felix in the Times to announce the partnership, writing, “As women and athletes, we experience the joys and challenges that come from being both. It’s why we promise to support you—as an athlete, a mother, an activist—as you continue to break records, break barriers and break the silence.” Felix will be working with the brand on product design as well as working to empower women and girls. According CNBC, Felix said about the partnership: “To me, right when [Athleta] came out to LA to meet with me … it was such an authentic fit. For the first time, I felt like more than just an athlete.”
Felix wore Athleta at a race last week, marking the first time she’s raced since giving birth. While she’s qualified for the world championships this fall, NBC Sports reports that her priority is preparing for the 2020 Olympics. (At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, she took home the silver medal in the 400-meter race.)
Felix had originally decided to come forward with her story after two Olympic runners, Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher, shared their pregnancy stories with the Times in an op-ed titled, “Nike Told Me to Dream Crazy, Until I Wanted a Baby.” In the piece, Montaño wrote, “More than a dozen track athletes, agents and others familiar with the business describe a multi-billion-dollar industry that praises women for having families in public — but doesn’t guarantee them a salary during pregnancy and early maternity.” Since then, Nike announced it would add new language to contracts to protect athletes’ pay during their pregnancies.