By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Female athletes from across all sports are drawing inspiration from one another as they fight for equal treatment, Olympic sprint champion Allyson Felix told Reuters this week.
Felix said the brave steps taken by U.S. gymnasts, who spoke out against a serial sexual abuser, and the U.S. women’s soccer team, who have sued their federation for equal pay, have helped give athletes like herself the courage to speak up.
“We’re feeling the power of the collective,” the 32-year-old told Reuters by telephone.
“When women speak out and speak their truth, change happens. It also encourages others to come forward.
“I know I’ve been inspired by the women’s soccer team and others and that has given me the courage to come forward, which is something that is totally out of the norm for me.
“It’s working and it’s a really special time in women’s sports.”
The six-times Olympic gold medalist, who gave birth to a daughter via emergency caesarian section in November, made headlines in May when she said longtime sponsor Nike wanted to pay her 70 percent less after having her first child.
The sportswear company also refused to guarantee that she would not be financially penalized if she was not at her best in the months around the birth, she wrote in The New York Times, echoing the experience of other Nike-sponsored women athletes.
Nike has since said it would end financial penalties for pregnant athletes.
This week Felix announced that she had signed the first sponsorship deal with women’s sports apparel company Athleta, where she will take part in initiatives to empower women and girls and have a hand in product design.
Felix, who is aiming to compete at next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo, said she hopes to transform the athlete sponsorship model with the Gap-owned Athleta and pave the way for sponsored athletes down the road.
“What’s happening with this partnership is what I want my legacy to be,” she said.
“I would love to have a little bit of influence on what sponsorship looks like, doing things differently, seeing athletes holistically and seeing them embraced through motherhood.
“I would love the next generation to not feel pressure to choose between career and family. Those things are very important to me.
“I hope to walk away from the sport after making some difference in those areas,” she said.
“That would make me extremely proud.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Nick Mulvenney)