Backlash Leads Nike To Change Pregnancy Policy For Athletes

Nike announced that it is adding language to future contracts that would stop freezing female athletes' pay during pregnancy, Fox Business reports. The move comes following backlash the brand received last week as it came to light that compensation was being stopped when female athletes became pregnant while under endorsement deals. The pay freeze would continue until some time after giving birth.

Current contracts will reportedly not be affected, but future endorsement deals will include the new language.

"Moving forward, our contracts for female athletes will include written terms that reinforce our policy. We recognize we can do more and that there is an important opportunity for the sports industry to evolve to support female athletes," a spokesman told The Wall Street Journal on Friday. In addition, the company indicated that they will provide appropriate assurances for existing athletes under contract already.

Olympic athlete Alysia Montano wrote in a New York Times op-ed published on Mother's Day that when she spoke to representatives at Nike about her intent to start a family while still competing, the company said it would "pause" her contract while she was pregnant.

Montano pointed out that in the athletics industry, men can have a full career and also start a family, whereas women are often forced to step away from their sport at their prime. She would ultimately leave Nike altogether in favor of Asics.

In response to questions about the contracts, Nike has revealed that they do indeed adjust compensation for what they call performance-based payment reductions. While these reductions are framed broadly, Nike did note that the provisions did not specifically exclude pregnancy or childbirth.

"Nike is proud to sponsor thousands of female athletes. As is common practice in our industry, our agreements do include performance-based payment reductions. Historically, a few female athletes had performance-based reductions applied," a Nike spokesperson wrote in a statement. Nike went on to admit that they recognized a problem with their approach when it comes to pregnant athletes and that they did indeed work towards a more fair and standardized approach across a variety of sports that was determined in 2018. Those changes are now being implemented on a going forward basis.

British runner Jo Pavey was one athlete who had struggled with the approach.

"When I announced I was pregnant [to Nike] my contract was immediately paused," Pavey said. "One of the main problems is the target to get the contract back and the timescale. It was the joy of running that kept me going because you think 'what will, be will be' and I was focused on being a mom. But you don't want to feel punished for being pregnant."