They Don’t Practice What They Preach: Track Star Alysia Montaño Said Nike Stopped Paying Her When She Got Pregnant

May 14, 2019  |  

USATF - 2014 Championships - Sacramento

Source: Christopher Morris – Corbis / Getty

On Mother’s Day, Roxane Gay tweeted about how sickening it was to watch the spectacle we make out of Mother’s Day.

She wasn’t suggesting that mothering isn’t the hardest job but the sentiment that is expressed is an insincere one. That on Mother’s Day we speak about the difficulties of raising children but every other day of the year, we don’t think too deeply about the sacrifices women make in order to raise their children.

We saw an example of this in the essay Olympic runner Alysia Montaño wrote for the New York Times. In it, she explained that while Nike who fashion themselves as a brand that supports women’s empowerment, they don’t always practice what they preach.

This year, they released a whole video on Mother’s day promoting gender equality but it’s just a theory.

Montaño explained that when she became pregnant, Nike, the company who had agreed to sponsor her, stopped paying her.

This served a particular blow to Montaño. She explained: “The economics of sports like track and field are different than those of professional sports like basketball or soccer. In track, athletes aren’t paid a salary by a league. Instead, their income comes almost exclusively from sponsorship deals inked with apparel companies like Nike and Asics.”

Nike acknowledged in a statement that some of its sponsored athletes have had their sponsorship payments reduced because of pregnancies. But the company says it changed its approach in 2018 so that athletes are no longer penalized. Nike declined to say if it wrote those changes into its contracts.

According to a 2019 Nike track and field contract shared with The Times, Nike 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. There are no exceptions for childbirth, pregnancy or maternity.”

Interestingly enough, you would think that Nike would celebrate Montaño’s pregnancy. The rest of the world did. Instead, the company suspended her pay.

And she wasn’t the only one. Another Olympian, Kara Goucher learned that after the birth of her son, Nike would stop paying her until she began racing again. So she scheduled a half-marathon three months after her son Colt was born. Then her son got dangerously ill. And she had to choose between staying with him and preparing for the race.

“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,” Ms. Goucher said, crying at the memory. “I’ll never forgive myself for that…Returning to competition so quickly was a bad choice for me. And looking back and knowing that I wasn’t the kind of mother that I want to be — it’s gut wrenching.”

Health insurance is also a concern for athletes. Typically, they receive their insurance from The United States Olympic Committee and U.S.A. Track & Field. But that insurance can be rescinded if the athletes don’t place in the top tier of their nation’s races. This was the case for both Montaño and Goucher who were unable to compete while having their children.

Phoebe Wright, a runner sponsored by Nike from 2010 to 2016, said, “Some people think women are racing pregnant for themselves,” said Ms. Wright. “It sometimes is, but it’s also because there’s a baby to feed.”

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