For female sports stars sponsored by Nike, pregnancy is synonymous with pay cuts or red flags in their career.
Nike is changing contracts to protect athlete’s pay during pregnancy after it came under fire for cutting the pay of some female sports stars who had children.
In a statement posted on its website last Friday, the sneaker giant recognized it could “go even further” despite its efforts on policy advancement to support female athletes during their pregnancy.
“Moving forward, our contracts for female athletes will include written terms that reinforce our policy,” Nike said in the release.
Nike updated its policy last year, but its contracts previously allowed the company to reduce pay if athletes fell short of performance goals, including during pregnancy or childbirth. Nike says that's now changed.
The sports retailer’s policy change was prompted in the wake of Olympic runner Alysia Montaño’s recent accusation of Nike’s unfair treatment towards pregnant athletes.
"We'll just pause your contract and stop paying you." – was how Nike responded to Montaño as she wanted to have a baby.
Montaño, a seven-time USA champion who is famously known for competing while pregnant, decided to fight back in a recent New York Times article that went viral.
“So, companies like Nike tell us to ‘dream crazy.’ We say, ‘How about you stop treating our pregnancies like injuries?’”
Montaño, now a mother of two, asks in a Times video.
“Then they tell us to ‘believe in something.’ We say, ‘How about maternity leave?’ How about when you tell my daughter she can achieve anything, you back it up?”
“Dream Crazier” a slogan that headlined Nike’s commercials in February shows that the brand is putting efforts in empowering female athletes.
But Montaño thought otherwise, “If you want to be an athlete and a mother, well that’s just crazy,” she says in a voiceover, mocking Nike’s “Dream Crazier” slogan. “No, seriously, it’s not a good idea.”
Montaño is not alone.
Other runners who have worked with Nike had similar experiences with the company.
"Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete," Phoebe Wright told The Times. "There's no way I'd tell Nike if I were pregnant."
Olympic runner Kara Goucher said she went back to running almost immediately after giving birth, training for a half-marathon so she could get paid by Nike again. "I'll never forgive myself for that," she told The Times.
Goucher ran the Boston Marathon just seven months after giving birth, leaving her with a chronic hip injury.
Aside from Papua New Guinea, the US is the only country left in the world that still don’t guarantee paid maternity leave. Most developed countries worldwide offer a 14-week standard suggested by ILO.