Allyson Felix's Reaction to Nike's New Maternity Ad Is So Important

Felix, who previously opened up about the inequalities female athletes often face if they decide to start a family, called the commercial both "beautiful" and "heartbreaking."

Six months after launching its first-ever collection of maternity activewear, Nike released an ad featuring moms at all stages, from pregnancy to postpartum, in their Nike gear. The commercial shows moms breastfeeding, stealing kisses from their little ones during downward dog, hitting the boxing ring, and so much more, alongside clips of famous athletes such as Serena Williams on the tennis court with her daughter Olympia, USWNT soccer player Alex Morgan, and track stars Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Nia Ali, and Bianca Williams — all crushing their respective sports. "To every mother, everywhere: you are the toughest athlete," reads a tweet from the brand alongside the ad.

Reactions to the ad were swift and encouraging, with plenty of positive comments from moms around the world rolling in on Instagram and Twitter. For Olympic track and field athlete, Allyson Felix, however, she said the commercial was "hard to watch."

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 19: Track & field athlete Allyson Felix poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot on November 19, 2019 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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"This ad is beautiful and heartbreaking," Felix tweeted alongside a video of the commercial. "It celebrates all of the right things but seems to ignore the struggle it took to get to this point."

The struggle that Felix seems to be alluding to in her tweet concerns her own personal history with Nike as a pregnant athlete back in 2018. In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, Felix shared that, after undergoing an emergency C-section at 32 weeks pregnant due to severe, life-threatening preeclampsia, Nike insisted on slashing her pay 70 percent during contract renewal negotiations. Around the same time, fellow Olympian Alysia Montaño shared her own experience with these inequalities in a separate New York Times op-ed, fueling a larger discussion about maternity protections for sponsored athletes.

Felix ultimately ended her seven-year contract with Nike, partnering with Athleta for a multi-year deal in 2019. Though Nike made changes to its maternity policy to guarantee sponsored athletes' pay and bonuses for 18 months around pregnancy (eight months before the athlete's due date and 10 months after), Felix said in her latest tweets that she hopes people will "hold Nike accountable" for the way the company has treated pregnant and postpartum athletes in the past. In other words, while Nike's new maternity ad is certainly empowering and inspirational, it doesn't erase the company's past treatment of sponsored athletes who went on to start a family.

"I think you should watch this ad," Felix said of Nike's new maternity commercial. "It reminds mothers that they are athletes. It celebrates mothers. It speaks truth. It's powerful. It's brilliant marketing. I agree with every word in this ad."

However, Felix continued, the commercial was "hard to watch" because of Nike's complicated past when it comes to working with pregnant and postpartum athletes. "My experience, along with many others, forced Nike to support athlete's maternity," Felix tweeted. "And when I watch this ad, it doesn't seem to acknowledge that war."

Nike's updated maternity policy for sponsored athletes represents a much-needed step in the right direction. But as Felix noted, there's still plenty of work to be done. These days, she's using her own lived experiences to advocate for equal maternal care and pay on behalf of all women and athletes, in the hopes that she'll be able to shift the narrative and experiences of her daughter and others on the path to parenthood. As Felix told Shape in 2019: "Becoming a mother and thinking about the world my daughter is going to grow up in really motivated me and encouraged me to find my voice and speak out about the experiences I've been through. Hearing other women and athletes speak out about these issues [like equal pay] has also made me feel more comfortable joining the conversation."

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