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Allyson Felix says she felt pressured to hide her pregnancy: 'I was scared of what my sponsor was going to say'

Allyson Felix opened up about feeling pressured to hide her pregnancy as a professional athlete. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Allyson Felix opened up about feeling pressured to hide her pregnancy as a professional athlete. (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

With 11 Olympic medals, Allyson Felix is the most decorated U.S. track athlete of all time. But in a recent episode of the Call Her Daddy podcast, she explained that no amount accolades could shield her from the harsh realities of navigating a pregnancy as a professional sports competitor.

"It was isolating. I was literally hiding the majority of the time and I was doing that because I was scared of what my sponsor was going to say," she said. For many professional athletes who choose to have children, pregnancy can have major repercussions on their careers, and there are little to no safeguards in place for such women.

"In track and field, our contracts are performance-based. So basically you go to the Olympics, you go to world championships, you get a medal, you get a bonus. But if you go and you don't, you get a reduction, and if you have a baby there's nothing in place to protect you from that," she said. Allyson explained that this pushed many women out of the sport as they were forced to choose between motherhood and their careers.

"So what had been happening in track and field was that women would become pregnant and they would either get reduced all the way to making zero salary and be pushed out of the sport, or they would hide their pregnancy, secure a new contract, come back to top form and continue on. It was just a struggle," she said.

Felix described this period of her life as tumultuous, and says what was supposed to be one the happiest times of her life was dampened by doubt and uncertainty about the future.

"There was a lot of feeling alone. I was going through all this stuff and I was like, 'Man.' I'm just, I'm in my house and I'm dealing with it all and just sadness. And then, you know, doubt. I think I got to a point where I was like, 'Well, maybe they're right,'" she said.

In 2019 Felix wrote an Op-ed for the New York Times, detailing her struggle to secure maternity protections in her partnership with Nike, even as one of the brand's biggest athletes.

But tensions between Felix and the athletic wear brand she had worked with for almost a decade began even before her pregnancy.

"It all started, you know, after I'd come back from a world championship — and it was actually the world championship where I became the most decorated male or female athlete — and it was time to renegotiate. And at that point, we started off at a place where it was 70% less than what I had been previously making," Felix explained.

"I think there was a sense of just, like, 'Oh, man, I'm a certain age,' or they just, you know, they feel like I've done it and that's it," she said.

In alignment with her desire to have children, Felix said, "[I] shifted my attention from the financials of it all," and focused on securing maternal protections instead.

"That's when things really started to unravel," she explained.

Ultimately Nike agreed to allow her time off to recover but did not want to "set the precedent for all female athletes," said Felix, who vocally opposed this position.

"It can't be on a case-by-case basis, because I could be treated one way because of, you know, my success. But if you don't tie it back legally to maternity and to, you know, returning to top form, then that's just not going to cut it," she said.

Felix, who gave birth during her contract negotiation, ultimately parted ways with Nike. But shortly after the op-ed was released, Nike changed its policy to offer 18 months of protection for female athletes.

And even though Felix was "absolutely terrified" to release her opinion piece, she says giving birth to her daughter pushed her to fight for a better future for women in sports.

"That shifted everything, and there was just this deep feeling within that was like 'I have to do this. I have to speak up on behalf of my daughter so that she doesn't go through this fight and her generation.' And there was just, like, a pulling that was so just not me. I just had to do it," she said.

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