U.S. Olympian and national champion Alysia Montaño has called out her form sponsor Nike for the mismatch between their inspirational advertising and their maternity leave policy for sponsored athletes, in a video for the New York Times.
“If you want to be an athlete and a mother, well that’s just crazy,” she says, mimicking Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ slogan. “No, seriously — it’s not a good idea.”
Montaño, explains that when she was carrying her first child, Linnea, she continued to run through her pregnancy, becoming known as “the pregnant runner.”
“I wanted to turn stereotypes about pregnancy upside down,” she says. “And I wanted to show people you can be a mother and still have a successful career, even in sports.”
Nike told her they would simply suspend her sponsorship contract after having her baby, and pause payments to her. That’s not all: The U.S. Olympic Committee can strip health insurance from athletes if they don’t place in the top tier of the nation’s most competitive races — harder to do when recovering from birth and caring for a newborn.
To meet her obligations to her sponsor, she says, Montaño went to great lengths — taping her abdominal muscles which were “torn apart” and shipping her breast milk from China to the U.S. to feed her infant daughter while she competed in Beijing.
Nike acknowledged in a statement to the Times that some of its sponsored athletes have had their sponsorship payments reduced because of pregnancies, adding that they changed their approach in 2018 so that athletes are no longer penalized. According to a 2019 Nike track and field contract shared with The Times, however, the company can still reduce an athlete’s pay “for any reason” if the athlete doesn’t meet a specific performance threshold, for example a top five world ranking. Childbirth, pregnancy or maternity are not excepted.
“Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete,” Phoebe Wright, a runner sponsored by Nike from 2010 through 2016, told the Times in an accompanying article. “There’s no way I’d tell Nike if I were pregnant.”
Olympian Kara Goucher said the most difficult part of motherhood was learning Nike would stop paying her until she started racing again, impelling her to schedule a half-marathon three months after giving birth to her son, Colt.
When her baby got sick, she had to continue preparations for the race, in order to restart her income. “I felt like I had to leave him in the hospital, just to get out there and run, instead of being with him like a normal mom would,” Goucher said, crying at the memory. “I’ll never forgive myself for that.”
“Companies like Nike tell us to ‘Dream Crazy,’” says Montaño. “We say, ‘How about you stop treating our pregnancies like injuries?”
“They they tell us to believe in something. We say, ‘How about maternity leave?”
Read the full story at The New York Times and watch the video below.