American Olympic sprinter, Allyson Felix, has recently beaten Usain Bolt’s record of world title wins, where she was crowned with her twelfth gold medal at the 17thWorld Track Championships in Doha, Qatar. Yet, what caught the attention of viewers was not just her accomplishment, but also her journey back to the track following pregnancy and motherhood. Nike, the billion-dollar athletic powerhouse, has been known to impose financial penalties, when individuals do not perform, let alone compete. These financial penalties further impose the long standing gender wage gap, as seen in professional sports. As stated by one author, “laws mandating equal treatment in workplaces reduce the gender wage gap”.
Therefore, it could be assumed that a ‘pregnancy and maternity pay policy’ would provide women in sport with a sense of financial security, and trust in their sponsor. These financial penalties forces women to return to sport, potentially earlier than they should, based on physical and mental health following postpartum. A sponsored Nike athlete is forced to choose between starting a family and work. Allyson Felix is one of Nike’s most highly touted athletes, yet still suffered from pay cuts during pregnancy. She penned an opinion piece to the New York Times voicing her displeasure. This piece read, “If I, one of Nike’s most marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?”
Nike has recently spoken out and responded to criticism regarding performance-pay reductions: “We’ve recognized Nike can do more, and there is an important opportunity for the sports industry collectively to evolve to better support female athletes,” stated Nike spokesperson, Sandra Carreon-John. Following the controversy, the company has stated that they will in turn waive performance pay reductions for 12 months for athletes who decide to have a child. In light of Nike’s recent promotion of women and young girls in athletics, focusing on the “dream crazier” ad campaign, you would expect the organization to practice what they preach regarding equal pay. The discontinuance of pay penalties is a step in the right direction, but we’re still far from monetary equality in sport.
Featured image: Allyson Felix following Track and Field Championships (AP photo/ Charlie Neibergall)