Allyson Felix says she was told by Nike to ‘know her place’ when she spoke up and pushed back hard against the company to put a system in place to ensure that female Nike athletes wouldn’t be punished for pregnancy.
She has been a Nike athlete for years and has appeared in promotions and seen wearing their logo on her racing tops and shorts. In 2018, she spoke out about life-threatening childbirth that nearly claimed her life and that of her daughter, Camryn. Felix had to undergo an emergency C-section to have her child.
While recovering from her C-section, she proposed to renegotiate her contract with Nike for maternal protection that will ensure that she would not be punished if she didn’t perform well doing her first week back.
“I felt pressure to return to form as soon as possible after the birth of my daughter in November 2018, even though I ultimately had to undergo an emergency C-section at 32 weeks because of severe pre-eclampsia that threatened the lives of me and my baby,” Felix wrote in the New York Times.
However, Nike refused her proposal and offered Felix a 70 percent pay cut. Dissatisfied with the offer, Felix broke ties with Nike in 2019 and also broke her non-disclosure agreement to tell her story.
“I faced a gender injustice that I couldn’t run away from. My employer did not support my maternity and my colleague’s maternity in a way that I could be proud of. I was told to know my place…Instead, I spoke up. I used my voice to fight for maternal protection for female athletes. No woman should have to choose between being a professional and being a Mother,” Felix wrote.
“What I’m not willing to accept is the enduring status quo around maternity…,” Felix noted. “I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?”
Allyson has since forged ahead and launched her own athletic brand footwear called Saysh. The footwear is built exclusively for women and anyone who buys a pair will receive a lifetime membership into the Saysh Collective.
Regarded as one of the most decorated track stars in U.S. history, Felix, 36, has six Olympics gold medals and is an 11-time world champion.
The women who designed and engineered her company’s first shoe were all former employees of Nike. Felix partnered with her brother and business partner Wes and another founder, Darren Breedveld. Together they raised $3 million in seed money to get things started.
The Olympian donned a pair of Saysh spikes when she secured her qualification for this year’s Tokyo Olympics. She will also don the Saysh brand for the Tokyo games.
With Saysh, Felix is creating her own ecosystem and building a brand for women in order to escape some of the ordeals she went through under Nike.