According to recent reports, Nike has penalized athletes for getting pregnant by reducing their pay and asking them to make unpaid appearances on its behalf. In one account, Olympic runner Alysia Montaño — who continued to compete until she was eight months pregnant — told the New York Times that Nike told her it would stop paying her while she was pregnant.
Following the reports, members of Congress are questioning the company. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) are asking Nike executives for details on the company’s treatment of sponsored athletes.
“We are deeply concerned by recent reports that Nike has reduced sponsorship payments, or ceased payment entirely, for female athletes during their pregnancy and postpartum recovery,” the legislators wrote in a letter to Nike’s chief executive, Mark Parker, obtained by The Washington Post. Beutler and Roybal-Allard are co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Maternity Care.
Specifically, the representatives asked the company how often it has reduced or stopped sponsorship payments to female athletes, and what protections and accommodations are in place for women who become pregnant.
They also asked whether male athletes have been subject to similar pay cuts after becoming fathers.
A spokeswoman for Nike declined to comment on the letter. On Friday, the company said it would begin adding pregnancy protections to new contracts with female athletes. It did not, however, say whether existing contracts would be updated accordingly.
“We want to make it clear today that we support women as they decide how to be both great mothers and great athletes,” the company said in a statement. “We recognize we can do more and that there is an important opportunity for the sports industry to evolve to support female athletes.”
“The sports industry allows for men to have a full career,” Montaño said in a video. “When a woman decides to have a baby, it pushes women out at their prime.”
Montaño now has a contract with Asics.
Other female athletes with Nike contracts said they had been treated similarly. Olympian Kara Goucher said Nike refused to pay her while she was pregnant and recovering from childbirth, even as it required her to represent the company at a number of events.
“There’s no way I’d tell Nike if I were pregnant.”
In an email, Beutler and Roybal-Allard said they were “pleased” that Nike was taking action by updating its contracts but said they wanted to make sure the company would follow through on its promise to treat women fairly.
“Proclaiming the principles of equal treatment and fair pay is laudable — but it should be accompanied by corresponding action,” they said. "While we welcome Nike’s response, we’ll be watching to see what happens next.”