Many female athletes who become pregnant, silently slip away from their sport to pursue motherhood. You see, the culture persists that a woman should sacrifice her pursuits once accepting the call to be a mother. History has shown, if a new mom does return to her sport, she will be met with criticism and judgment and not embraced. We saw this, most recently, when Serena Williams returned to tennis after giving birth. She was ranked crazy low, there were minimal expectations for her to perform as well as she did pre-pregnancy, and when she did make it to the finals of a major tournament, she was body shammed for her post-pregnancy body. Every misstep was blamed on “coming back from pregnancy.”
Now, Olympian track and field legend, Allyson Felix is speaking out. If I am honest, I would love it if we would speak out in support of each other before the issue hits close to home. But, I suppose it is hard to envision how serious an issue like motherhood is until you are a mom and it is serious to you. Now Allyson Felix is a mother. Motherhood did not come easy to her. She experienced some serious complications that she recently shared with Congress. Her career and life were in danger with “an emergency C-section at 32 weeks because of severe pre-eclampsia that threatened the lives of me and my baby,” she shared.
Apparently for her, childbirth was not just a physical challenge, but a threat to her livelihood. She was in the midst of contract negotiations with Nike when she raised the issue of maternal protection. You see, in corporate America, there are Parental Leave laws in place. They have grown to not just protect time for a new mom to heal and return to work, but now they protect new fathers, and even same-sex parents allowing time to bond as a family all with the confidence that employment will be waiting. Such protections do not readily exist for those in Sports & Entertainment. Now, Allyson Felix’s demands have caused her contract negotiations to reach a stalemate.
While we enthusiastically cheer for and are entertained by our top female talents, sponsors are less than tolerant of their time away from the spotlight, or more truthfully, the danger pregnancy poses to revenue and their bottom line. Some may say, “She knew what she was getting into when she decided to get pregnant.” To say that about a professional athlete is to say that about any woman transitioning to motherhood. Women in any industry should have protections that will afford them the opportunity to return to their work duties and income postpartum. How will that look? I do not pretend to have all the answers. What I do know is that the conversation must be had. And much like the abortion dialogue taking place across our nation now, this conversation cannot only be had by the white, male majority. Women…mothers must be included in the dialogue and our opinions, experiences, and perspectives must fully and earnestly be considered. Thank you, Allyson Felix, for having the courage to be one such voice.