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By Khadeeja Safdar
Nike Inc. said it is adding language to new contracts for female athletes that will protect their pay during pregnancy, after coming under fire for cutting compensation for some athletes.
The sneaker giant said Friday it had adopted the policy last year but was now writing the terms into its future endorsement deals. Previously, the contracts gave Nike the right to reduce pay if runners failed to meet performance thresholds for any reason, including pregnancy or childbirth.
Although Nike isn't changing existing contracts, the company said current athletes would receive similar protections. "We will provide appropriate assurances for existing contracts to reinforce our policy," a Nike spokesman said Friday.
The move comes days after one of its former runners, Alysia Montaño, criticized Nike and its rivals for their policies around pregnancy.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times, Ms. Montaño said that when she told Nike several years ago that she wanted to have a baby during her career, the company told her it would pause her contract and stop paying her. She changed sponsors and signed with Asics.
"The sports industry allows for men to have a full career and when a woman decides to have a baby it pushes women out at their prime," she said in a video published on Mother's Day.
On Saturday, Ms. Montaño, an Olympian and U.S. national champion, said she was pleased that Nike was adding protections for pregnancy in new contracts but questioned what happens after pregnancy. She also said she was skeptical about the company's assurances for existing athletes. "If they get pregnant, are they just supposed to take Nike's word for it?" she said.
After switching sponsors, she famously competed in the 2014 U.S. championships when she was eight months pregnant. Following the birth of her daughter, she said that Asics also threatened to end her contract.
She had received assurances from Asics, she said, but those weren't enough. "Because it wasn't in my contract, they threatened to penalize me," she said in an interview Saturday. "I had to fight for my money."
Ms. Montaño said she is still waiting for Asics and other brands to provide more clarity on whether they are changing their contracts. "They are being let off the hook," she said.
Nike acknowledged it had reduced pay for a few female athletes, but said that last year it changed its policies so women would no longer be penalized financially for pregnancy. However, that change wasn't written into contracts.
"Moving forward, our contracts for female athletes will include written terms that reinforce our policy," the Nike spokesman said on Friday. "We recognize we can do more and that there is an important opportunity for the sports industry to evolve to support female athletes."
On Saturday, the Nike spokesman said the company's policy applies both during and after pregnancy.
A spokeswoman for Asics didn't address the question of whether the company is changing contracts to add protections for pregnancy. "We honor our contracts with athletes," she said. "And we continuously look for evolving the ways we support them."
Write to Khadeeja Safdar at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 18, 2019 22:27 ET (02:27 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.