Allyson Felix, who holds nine Olympic medals, is heralded as the most decorated woman in US Track & Field. A native of California, Felix entered the public eye at the age of 18 when she won a silver medal at the World Championships. In 17 years Felix has enjoyed a successful career, competing and medaling in countless meets, 4 Olympic games and she most recently qualified for the Tokyo Olympics at the age of 35.
One would think an athlete of her stature would command the respect and understanding of the Nike executives that she had been in partnership with throughout her decorated career. A career where she proudly promoted the Nike brand sporting their logo while wearing their gear. But alas, what has proven to be an even greater fight than an Olympic gold medal for Felix was the fight for equity as a woman trying to ensure maternal protections.
Felix experienced a traumatic event during her pregnancy in 2018 where she nearly lost her life and her baby’s life. She was required to have a life-saving emergency c-section at only 32 weeks. Felix and her daughter Camryn survived. In the midst of her recovery, Felix made attempts to re-negotiate her Nike contract. Understanding the dire situation she was in and the long road to recovery ahead of her, she wanted to make sure she would not be penalized for poor performances as she made her way back to peak performance. Very basic and reasonable maternal protections. Instead of including that provision to her contract Nike decided to cut her pay by 70%.
To add insult to injury, Felix described the experience as if she was another number.
“I was told to know my place. That runners should just run, that it’s just business,” Felix said.
Felix took that terrible experience and used it as fuel to advocate for maternal protections even more. She broke her non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with Nike and terminated the partnership. This year, as the Tokyo Olympic approaches, Felix has a strong message for those who told her to know her place. Her place is wherever she chooses to be and now she has chosen to found her own brand, Saysh.
According to the brand inaugural Facebook post “Saysh is a community-centered lifestyle brand for, and by, women. Our mission is to create a future in which inequality is undermined by female creativity and athleticism.”
Felix’s advocacy proves that no one should have to make the impossible choice between motherhood and a career. This new brand is made for women by women. In fact, the two designers of Saysh’s first shoe were previously employed at Nike.
Felix’s full statement on the launch was an open letter that she posted on social media.
“Dear World, and the women in it,
I’ve been running my whole life.
I’m good at it, and I’ve got a lot of medals to show for it.
I was scared to stop running. I wasn’t sure I would fully know who I was without it. Like many women, I was afraid that starting a family would be a “death sentence” for my career. I did it anyway. During my pregnancy, I faced a gender injustice that I couldn’t run away from. My employer did not support my maternity and my colleague’s maternity in a way that I could be proud of.
I was told to know my place. That runners should just run; that it’s just business.
Instead, I spoke up. I used my voice to fight for maternal protection for female athletes. No woman should have to choose between being a professional and being a Mother. Now, because of that fight, sponsorship contracts look different for a lot of athletes.
During my pregnancy, I had complications. And I realized I needed to use my voice to bring awareness to another injustice: a racial injustice in our healthcare system. I spoke to the United States Congress about my experience – and I continue to use my voice for change.
When it came to the Olympics this year – I didn’t have a sponsor for my racing spikes.
I was tired of asking for change. I knew I needed to create it.
So, *we started our own brand. It’s called Saysh. We design and develop products for and by women. We started with my racing spikes. We’re bringing lifestyle sneakers next and creating all of this on the foundation of community.
I can’t wait for you to see it all, to be part of it all. These products mean so much more to me than simply the shoes I compete in. This brand represents hope, acceptance, and the power to create change. I hope you’ll come to feel that also.
When you see me run, know that I’m not running for medals. I’m running for change. I’m running for greater equity for each of us. I’m running for women. More than anything, I’m running toward a future where no woman or girl is ever told to know her place.
See You This Summer,
Mother, Activist, Entrepreneur & Six-Time Gold Medalist.”
Felix’s advocacy and refusal to stay silent on the matter has resulted in so many important conversations being started and policies being revised.
While it will be awesome to watch Felix compete in a couple of weeks at the Olympics in her own custom Saysh spikes, what she has done for women in sports through her advocacy is worth way more than gold.