What Happens When A World-Class Athlete Decides To Have A Baby
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Sprinter Allyson Felix has nine Olympic medals, including six gold medals. And she's not done. Yet contract talks with Nike, her sponsor, are at an impasse.
ALLYSON FELIX: And to me, you know, it's no longer about money. It's just about one thing simply, and that's the protection around maternity.
INSKEEP: She spoke with Rachel Martin about what to expect when a world-class athlete is expecting. Here's how she says Nike reacted to her news.
FELIX: The words, you know - they were congratulatory. And then things just got more difficult with the negotiations. And that's kind of where we became at a standstill - when I did want to push for, you know, protection around maternity. And it was something, you know, that I felt necessary just for the future and just how I know things to be around the culture in pregnancy in track and field.
RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: When you say you want protections for maternity, what does that mean explicitly?
FELIX: To me, that means that you don't have to rush back after pregnancies. Typically, also, your contract is pretty much kind of frozen when you become pregnant. And then it's kind of like, OK. You know, your job will be here when you get back. But you aren't paid, you know, in the meantime. And so that's something that, you know, I feel like definitely needs to change.
MARTIN: And then you mentioned the culture in professional sports around maternity and around pregnancy. What has been the culture?
FELIX: This is not, you know, just a Nike issue. This is - for me, this is the industry. And it's - you know, it's bigger than just one company. But what I have seen happen and witness happen with friends is that you typically, you know, become pregnant, and you feel that you have to hide it. You know, there's this feeling of fear.
MARTIN: I mean, presumably, Nike and other corporations - the argument is if you're not running, then we don't pay you.
FELIX: Yeah. And I definitely understand that. But I think that it becomes bigger than that, you know? When your image is being used, when you've been marketed for years and years and, you know, when your name is still out there, I do think that you are still being used, and your story is out there. And then, many times, you are still doing appearances, and you're doing work on behalf of the company. And you are still training. You know, you're not going to miraculously get back on the track and be on your top form. So I've worked much harder than ever before to be able to be back and be at top form when I do step back on the track.
MARTIN: There are other women in this fight with you. We saw Alysia Montano and Kara Goucher share similar stories. What does it mean to have them alongside you?
FELIX: Well, to me, Alysia and Kara are really just heroes, you know, to speak up on this. I just applaud them for starting this conversation. It's a tough thing to do, you know - to step out and not really know how you're going to be, you know, accepted. And they bravely started this conversation.
And so I think, you know, when a few people start talking, we see that change happens. We've seen these companies step up and say that they are going to change their policy. They are going to change the way that they do things. And none of this would have happened if no one would have said anything. You know, this has been going on for a very, very long time. So I'm grateful for them for stepping forward and for being brave and for speaking on something that can be hard to talk about.
MARTIN: Allyson Felix is a track and field sprinter. She's the only female track and field athlete to ever win six Olympic gold medals.
Thank you so much for talking with us.
FELIX: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: Now, on Friday, after Allyson Felix told her story to Rachel, Nike sent a letter to its athletes. Nike agrees that its contract terms have created, quote, "unintended and unnecessary implications for our female athletes who become pregnant." The company says it's working to fix that. So we called back Allyson Felix to ask if she is satisfied.
FELIX: I think it starts to, but there's definitely more to be done. I would - I have not seen any language of what those actual terms are going to be. And so I look forward to see what that looks like. And then, also, there's a lot of other companies that we hope will step up as well, you know? And this is an industry-wide problem. And I think it's great that, you know, Nike is taking a step in the right direction. But, you know, we'd love to hear these other companies as well. It would be great, you know, if everyone could really just get on board.
INSKEEP: Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.