Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix has opened up about how “disrespectful and tone deaf” she found being approached for an advertising campaign about female empowerment with Nike while she was negotiating contract terms with the sportswear giant.
The invitation came from Nike around when the six-time Olympic gold-medal winner was in the midst of negotiating maternity rights with the company. The iconic athletic apparel brand was Ms Felix’s sponsor until a few years ago.
“I was like, this is just beyond disrespectful and tone-deaf,” she said in a TIME magazine profile after they offered her a 70 per cent pay cut in her new contract after getting pregnant with her daughter and then approached her about a female empowerment advert.
She believes that giant companies like Nike use their power and vast resources to strong-arm athletes and others they work with.
Felix continued to TIME, “So they can get away with stuff like that because, where are you going to go? And I think that’s how I was always perceived: ‘She’s never going to say anything. She’s never going to speak out.’”
This is not the first time that Ms Felix has publicly called out the brand for being unaccommodating towards the needs of pregnant women and new moms. In 2019, she wrote a piece for The New York Times explaining her experience with the company
“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. We’ve been at a standstill ever since,” she wrote in the piece.
In 2017, her contract with Nike lapsed and she is now sponsored by Athletica. She also has a lifestyle line called Saysh.
Felix’s daughter Camryn Ferguson, 2, is often photographed with her following her races. Following her birth and the recovering from a c-section, Ms Felix has proven she is able to succeed on the track. Her achievements include breaking Usain Bolt’s record of 11 medals at the World Athletics Championship.
Additionally, Ms Felix recently qualified for her fifth Olympic games. In the trials, she placed second in the 400-metre race.
In response to Felix’s comments about her former sponsor, Nike told TIME, “We regularly have conversations with our athletes regarding the many initiatives we run around the world.”
They continued, “Nike has supported thousands of female athletes for decades. We have learned and grown in how to best support our female athletes.”
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