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Congresswomen press Nike about its treatment of pregnant athletes

Olympian Alysia Montaño is among the women speaking out against Nike’s treatment of pregnant athletes. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Members of Congress are questioning Nike following reports that the company penalized athletes for getting pregnant by reducing their pay and asking them to make unpaid appearances on its behalf.

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 following a New York Times report that said the company had stopped paying some athletes during their pregnancies.

“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.

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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.”

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.

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“The sports industry allows for men to have a full career,” she said in a video. “When a woman decides to have a baby, it pushes women out at their prime.”

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.

“Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete,” Phoebe Wright, a runner sponsored by Nike from 2010 to 2016, told the Times. “There’s no way I’d tell Nike if I were pregnant.”

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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.”

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