U.S. Olympic Runner Accuses Nike of “Just Advertising” Support of Female Athletes

Alysia Montaño claims that Nike's ads about motherhood are all optics

Alysia Montano
Alysia Montaño first brought attention to Nike's treatment of pregnant athletes last week.
Andy Lyons/ Getty

Olympic runner Alysia Montaño wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday — Mother’s Day — in which she called out Nike for being the true supporters of female athletes who dare become parents.

“On Mother’s Day this year, Nike released a video promoting gender equality,” Montaño writes. “But that’s just advertising.”

Montaño explains that, unlike in other sports that are dictated by a league, track and field athletes aren’t paid a salary, and instead, their livelihood “comes almost exclusively” from paid sponsorship deals with activewear brands like Nike. Some income can be supplemented by prize money for those few at the very top of their sport, but that’s not the case for most, making those who sign lucrative deals with brands “bound to a single company.”

So if a woman who runs track for a living decides to have a child, she’s essentially ending her career.

“Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete,” Phoebe Wright, who was a runner sponsored by Nike from 2010 through 2016 told Montaño. “There’s no way I’d tell Nike if I were pregnant.”

The multi-billion-dollar industry, in Montaño’s words, “praises women for having families in public — but doesn’t guarantee them a salary during pregnancy and early maternity.”

One athlete and mother who understands the pressure, Olympian Kara Goucher, said that after she had her son, she was forced to decide between running 120 miles per week or breastfeeding — her body couldn’t do both. Then, when he son became ill, Goucher had to decide again between training and being by his side since she wasn’t being paid when she wasn’t racing.

“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. “I’ll never forgive myself for that.”

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