Nike said it was adding language to future contracts that would protect female athletes’ pay during pregnancy after the brand received backlash last week for freezing compensation for some pregnant women under endorsement deals.
Nike announced Friday the policy, which the company began implementing last year, will be written into future endorsement deals, The Wall Street Journal reported. Although current contracts will not be altered, female athletes will also receive the same protection.
“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, adding that the company “will provide appropriate assurances for existing contracts to reinforce our policy.”
Nike was criticized last week after several female athletes said the company stopped paying them under their sponsorship deal while they were pregnant and immediately after they gave birth.
Olympic athlete Alysia Montano said in a New York Times op-ed published on Mother’s Day that when she approached Nike about her plans to start a family in the midst of her career, the company said it would “pause” her contract and stop paying her while she was pregnant. She ultimately switched sponsors to Asics.
“The sports industry allows for men to have a full career and when a woman decides to have a baby it pushes women out at their prime,” she said in a Times video.
Olympic runner Kara Goucher also recalled being told by Nike, when she approached them about her pregnancy, that her compensation would stop until she started racing again. She said she pushed herself to run a half-marathon three months after she gave birth to her son, Colt.
“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 told the New York Times. “I’ll never forgive myself for that.”
British runner Jo Pavey told Sky News on Friday that she was also “punished” for being pregnant.
"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."
Nike said in a previous statement to FOX Business that sponsorship deals did include “performance-based payment reductions” that did not 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,” the Nike spokesperson wrote in a statement. “We recognized that there was inconsistency in our approach across different sports and in 2018 we standardized our approach across all sports so that no female athlete is penalized financially for pregnancy.”