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Allyson Felix, the most decorated track and field Olympian of all time, partnered with her biggest sponsor Athleta and the Women's Sports Foundation to give $200,000 in grant money to athletes who need to pay for childcare while training for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Having experienced firsthand how new parents and pregnant athletes can be punished by their sponsors, Felix knew it was up to her to make a change and stand up for fellow parents representing Team USA.
In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, Felix joined Olympian runners Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher by sharing her own story of how she was treated by Nike during her pregnancy and first few months of motherhood. "If we have children," she wrote, "we risk pay cuts from our sponsors during pregnancy and afterward. It's one example of a sports industry where the rules are still mostly made for and by men."
She wrote that after giving birth to her daughter Camryn in 2018 (which required a life-threatening emergency C-section at 32 weeks because of severe pre-eclampsia), Nike wanted to reduce her pay by 70% and would not contractually agree to not punish her if she did not perform her best in the months following childbirth.
Felix told Fast Company on July 9th that when Nike sent her to the World Championships after she gave birth, "Not only was I still breastfeeding and physically and mentally exhausted from being a first-time mom while training and competing—I was assigned a roommate at the competition. There was no way I could bring my daughter into a shared room with another athlete who is trying to get in her zone."
Ultimately, by speaking out, Felix and her fellow female athletes did cause Nike to readjust their sponsorship maternity policy, but the damage had already been done. Felix moved on to Athleta—"They get that I am a whole person beyond the track," she told Fast Company. "In fact, part of my contract with Athleta includes provisions for Cammy to join me whenever I am competing. "
The grant program Felix, Athleta, and the Women's Sports Foundation has set up has already awarded Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry, Olympic saber fencer Mariel Zagunis, and Paralympic volleyball player Lora Webster with $10,000 to put toward childcare. Any athlete is welcome to apply.
Being an Olympian and a parent should be a new normal and athletes shouldn't have to choose one over the other. Sponsors should be supportive of whatever personal path their athletes decide to walk down, and Felix is stepping up to the plate to set a good example.
"These grants are about showing the industry that all mom athletes need this same comprehensive support to be able to participate in their athletic endeavors," Felix told Fast Company. If the sponsors won't do it (even though they should), then women who support other women will.