Taken to task

Congresswomen question Nike over its treatment of pregnant female athletes

Alysia Montaño at the 2015 Pan Am Games. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

In the wake of a damning New York Times report that claimed Nike reduced or withheld payment from athletes who were pregnant or had recently given birth, two congresswomen are pressing the company for details about its treatment of sponsored female athletes.

Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to Nike chief executive Mark Parker saying they “are deeply concerned by recent reports that Nike has reduced sponsorship payments, or ceased payment entirely, for female athletes during their pregnancy and postpartum recovery,” according to The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the letter.

Beutler and Roybal-Allard, who are co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Maternity Care, asked Nike to specify how often it has stopped paying female athletes for reasons linked to pregnancy and childbirth, and whether male athletes are subjected to similar pay cuts after they become fathers.

The congresswomen also asked if there are protections that are in place for pregnant women who receive Nike sponsorship. Following the Times report, Nike said it would add pregnancy protection clauses to new contracts, but did not specify whether existing contracts would also be updated.

In the Times report and an accompanying video, Olympic runner Alysia Montaño and other athletes called out Nike for the discrepancy between the messages of female empowerment in its ads and its treatment of the women athletes behind the scenes.

Montaño said Nike told her that it would pause her contract after she revealed she wanted to have a baby. She also lost her health insurance with the United States Olympic Committee because she did not place in top-tier races while having her children.

Olympian Kara Goucher told the Times that Nike would not pay her while she was not racing. When her infant son became seriously ill, she felt compelled to leave him in the hospital so she could prepare for a race. During her pregnancy, which was high risk, she also made unpaid appearances on behalf of the company.

“Proclaiming the principles of equal treatment and fair pay is laudable — but it should be accompanied by corresponding action,” Beutler and Roybal-Allard told the Post. “While we welcome Nike’s response, we’ll be watching to see what happens next.”

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

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