Nike, just do it: Athletes should be entitled to maternity cover
Nike has always been proactive. It needs to go all in to support its female athletes
Allyson Felix: When she went on maternity leave from the track, Nike wanted to pay her 70 per cent less than before. Photograph: Ezra Shaw/Getty
Here’s the thing with Nike: it is most comfortable when there is discomfort. The company doesn’t care what the public thinks, they don’t care what the markets think. All it cares about is doing it.
I remember years ago when it all came out about Tiger Woods. With so many brands backing off, one company that stood by him was Nike. Financially, it made sense. Woods is arguably still the biggest name in sport and the most recognisable around the world, even for non-sports fans.
Nike backed Tiger by having a series of ads, but one stood out the most. After the revelations emerged about Tiger’s fondness for cocktail waitresses emerged, and after he read out his beautifully scripted apology, Nike decided now was the time to capitalise. With Woods staring deep down the lens, the sound of Earl Jones’s voice boomed: “Did you learn anything?” Tiger didn’t respond.
A year ago, Nike decided it was going to stir it up again with its endorsement of Colin Kaepernick. Nike pushed all the heroic, inspirational and cliched lines and settled on: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” The campaign divided opinion hugely, with critics burning their shoes, while some showed their support by buying more shoes.
In 1994 Charles Barkley did an advert for Nike claiming he was not being paid to be a role model. It’s funny to think how years ago that ad was one of the most controversial to air on television, but people were outraged about it for years. Nike withstood that controversy and has continued to grow since then.
Another campaign came at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where Chinese athlete Liu Xiang pulled out of the 110m hurdles with an injury. Within the day, Nike had used his heartbreak and turned it into an opportunity, specifically: “Love sport even when it breaks your heart.”
Nike is a company that is built to stand firm in the face of controversy and even use it to its advantage to grow even more. Some people burn their jerseys, some people buy more shoes. Either way, Nike wins.
Yet with the most recent controversy hitting Nike, it’s hard to believe it is going to take it lying down. Allyson Felix recently wrote in the New York Times about how Nike treated her when she was on maternity leave from the track. After she gave birth and underwent an emergency C-section at 32 weeks because of severe pre-eclampsia that put her and her baby’s life at risk, Felix claimed that Nike pressured her to return to training as soon as possible. On top of that, it wanted to pay her 70 per cent less than before.
I can see both arguments. Nike obviously doesn’t want one of its most marketable athletes out of the public eye. But in a time where online influencers barely leave their house without sponsorship, surely there is a middle ground for everyone. Nobody, in this day and age, is out of the public eye. Instagram, Twitter, YouTube – we have never been so close to our heroes but also more susceptible to the everyday brands we interact with.
Nike, along with countless other brands, are all switching to new styles of marketing and why should pregnant or injured athletes be omitted from this? Athletes are just as entitled to maternity packages, because, at the end of the day, blood, sweat and tears do not pay the mortgage and childcare.
Athletes deserve to be protected, but I have no doubt Nike executives are going to sit in a room and discuss the next steps. Nike’s slogan isn’t “Just be cautious”, “Just be careful” or “Just in case”. It has always been a proactive company. Nike has never been afraid of what people say.
They do their research and ensure the long-term profitability is secure. They have always backed winners even if there is a little pushback. In hindsight, they have always just done it. And while “Just do it” may now take on a whole new meaning, it’s time Nike pushes the poker chips and goes all in when supporting their female athletes.
It’s time to just do it.