Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix claimed her "gut plummeted" when she was invited to appear in a Nike female empowerment campaign while negotiating maternity leave. "I felt thinking, this is just beyond insulting and tone-deaf," she said in a feature published Thursday by Time magazine. Felix added that although she has contracts with other brands, the invitation from Nike caused her to reconsider whether to continue working with them.
Felix said that when she found out that she had been selected for the campaign, which features various athletes who have had babies recently, she thought it was "a great opportunity". But after negotiations over her contract status broke down, she decided it wasn't right for her or her family to participate.
Nike released a statement saying that they were sorry that Felix didn't feel supported during her pregnancy and noted that they offered her a new contract last year but she declined it because she wanted to compete in the 2016 Olympics under her own terms. They also said that they are proud that Felix chose to promote their brand at such a critical time in her life.
As part of its commitment to provide employees with choice regarding their careers, Nike allows its ambassadors to choose how they want to represent the company through marketing agreements. This type of agreement can vary greatly from athlete to athlete depending on what works best for their career path.
Felix signed an arrangement with Nike in 2010 to assist support her preparation for the London Olympics. She was a part of Nike's 'Make Yourself Proud' campaign in 2011 and sponsored the Nike "Free" shoe system. In 2013, the three-time Olympian also starred in Nike's Spring/Summer Women's Lookbook.
In addition to her work with Nike, Felix has been featured in advertising campaigns for McDonald's, Pepsi, and Procter & Gamble. She has also endorsed Weight Watchers and AT&T.
After winning two gold medals and setting two American records at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, Felix decided to call it a career after the games. "I'm going to miss all my teammates and I hope we can stay in touch over the summer," she said. "But now it's time for me to move on to new challenges."
She began working with Under Armour after the Olympics but continued to train with Nike during the off-season. The two brands will continue to collaborate through 2015 as both companies seek additional sponsorship opportunities from Olympic athletes.
Nike announced in April 2014 that they had signed another athlete to be part of their Olympic sponsorship program - tennis player Serena Williams. The company has not announced who will be sponsoring Felix now that she has retired from competitive athletics.
Felix eventually left Nike and signed with Athleta, a women's clothing manufacturer. She has also launched her own shoe and lifestyle brand, Saysh. According to Time, Nike has now strengthened its payment safeguards for pregnant women and new moms. The article quoted several other athletes who have had trouble booking appearances with sponsors after giving birth.
Nike released a statement saying it offered Felix support during her pregnancy and after the birth of her child. But the company added that she was not eligible for any promotional opportunities because she had not met our fitness requirements. "The ad campaign was developed without Allyson knowing it would be featured in print or digital media before the end of her pregnancy," the statement read.
After leaving Nike, Felix launched her own line of shoes and apparel at Athleta. The brand's website states that it is designed to fit women of all sizes comfortably from heel to toe. It also says the brand is committed to environmental sustainability through renewable energy sources and organic fabrics.
Felix won two gold medals and one bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. She is the first African American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. After winning gold in the 100 meters, Felix became only the second female sprinter after Marion Jones to win back-to-back gold medals. She returned from maternity leave six months early to prepare for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
"This is my least favorite part," sighs four-time Olympian Allyson Felix. However, with the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo being postponed by a year due to the coronavirus epidemic, Felix and her coach, Kersee, have returned to what would normally be a summer or fall practice routine. They're still working out each day, but now they do so from home.
The decision was made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on March 12 to postpone the games until July 24, 2020. This means that Felix and other athletes will not be able to compete in Tokyo this summer as planned because they are required by law to be available for possible future events.
Felix has been vocal about the need to find a way to make the postponement process more transparent and less damaging for athletes who have sacrificed much to get here. She also wants better protection for those working with athletes during practices and competitions. "We need more paychecks," she said. "People are going to lose their jobs over this."
Currently, there are no plans to hold the games later than July 24, 2020, but this could change if the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve. As far as Felix is concerned, the most important thing right now is that everyone stays safe and healthy. She hopes that once things return to some sort of normal, people will remember how hard she's worked to get here.