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An exposé, published in The New York Times, features a video starring Olympic runner Alysia Montaño, in which she mocks Nike’s “Dream Crazier” slogan.
“If you want to be an athlete and a mother, well that’s just crazy,” she says in a voiceover. “No, seriously, it’s not a good idea.”
She details how she had to tape her abs together and ship breast milk from China in order to enable her to compete in a race shortly after her daughter was born, which she participated in so she would not lose her Nike sponsorship.
READ MORE: Third of mums express milk in work toilet
In the written report, other female athletes formerly sponsored by Nike weigh in.
“Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete,” Phoebe Wright, a runner, who was sponsored by Nike for six years until 2016, told the publication.
Olympian Kara Goucher details how she started training again a week after she gave birth, after learning while pregnant that Nike would not pay her until she started racing again.
Should sponsored athletes get maternity pay?
For athletes like Montaño, Wright and Goucher, sponsorship is often their main source of income. However, it’s worth mentioning that, unlike an employer, sponsors have no legal requirement to pay athletes while they are not working.
The issue has caused significant debate on Twitter, with some arguing a brand like Nike – who advertise their products around female empowerment – should practice what they preach with regards to the female athletes they sponsor.
REALLY great piece from Alysia Montano about the disparity between female & male athletes. Extremely disappointed in @Nike ‘s hypocrisy. Won’t be buying any more Nike til they change this policy. ‘What Nike Told Me When I Wanted to Have a Baby’ https://t.co/BFY8rjaJZC
— Gabrielle Lamm (@gabbiethelamm) May 14, 2019
In the video, the United States national champion Alysia Montaño turns Nike’s ad rhetoric against her former sponsor: If companies want to stand by the inspirational slogans they tout, they must ensure sponsored female athletes receive maternity leave. https://t.co/QsnSg2hsHT
— Chonilla Podcast (@Chonilla) May 14, 2019
Sponsorship deals should include a provision for maternity pay, many are arguing in support of Montaño.
READ MORE: Nike ad features woman with hairy armpits
If you truly want to empower women to pursue their dreams then there would be a clear understanding in sponsorship agreements that professional athlete be at track or any other sport who decide to have a baby that they will continue to get there same pay!
— Suthungurl (@Angela97229) May 14, 2019
Lindsay asked me if I thought Nike could change industry standards...
Answer: YES. If I have two sponsorship offers on the table and one says they will support me though pregnancy, I'm going with that company https://t.co/2AseIZpaBA
— Phoebe Wright (@Phe800) May 12, 2019
However, not everyone agrees.
One person pointed out that many freelance and contract workers outside of the sporting industry share the same position as Montaño when it comes to maternity pay.
"We make choices in life. We cannot have it all," writes Mary in a comment on Alysia Montaño's Op-Ed, "Nike Told Me to Dream Crazy, Until I Wanted a Baby." https://t.co/dsEp2vCj4N pic.twitter.com/QTnhFzTe3U
— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion) May 14, 2019
Others have waded into the debate, identifying the very nature of sponsorship is based on performance – therefore the notion of maternity pay is incompatible with such a deal.
Wait, so #Nike has performance related sponsorship agreements, which athletes sign knowingly.
And then the brand is suddenly expected..... to pay out when NO performance takes place?!
Erm, why, exactly? pic.twitter.com/uYE8KFTRaH
— Matthew C (@TheWriteGuyUK) May 13, 2019
Just don’t get pregnant or you’ll lose your sponsorship.
— Don Baldwin (@BaldwinDon) May 12, 2019
Companies sponsor athletes that will draw business. In the Nike contract (at the very, very bottom) says they can cancel sponsorship's for any reason. Example, a short term injury may not be canceled, but a long term injury likely would Common sense https://t.co/r7r49oClyM
— Cindy Rekoon (@PopNFood) May 13, 2019
In the UK, women are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, as long as they are eligible due to having an employment contract and giving the correct notice.
For more details of maternity rights for UK employees, visit the government website.