#JustDoIt. #DreamCrazy. Both are notable campaigns created by Nike, a leader in the athletic industry. Though these messages are meant to instill a foundation of perseverance and dedication for all, how much they truly strive to improve female athletics is close to nothing.
In a recent story by the New York Times, track athlete Mary Cain discussed how joining Nike’s Oregon Project, a training program for Olympic hopefuls, prompted her downward spiral from being one of the country’s top female runners to having little to no mental strength .
Though Cain was originally led by head coach Alberto Salazar to believe that her recruitment would lead to an Olympic gold medal, his training techniques proved detrimental as he limited the teenage athlete to a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day. With the physical and emotional torture Cain faced on a daily basis, her performance drastically decreased until she finally decided to quit the team.
Though the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency revoked Salazar’s coaching credentials for four years and Nike CEO Mark Parker stepped down after shutting down the Oregon Project, this storyline is a never-ending narrative in the misogynistic culture of sports.
Similarly, female Olympic runners Alyson Felix, Alysia Montano and Kara Goucher have recently, in an opinion article in the New York Times, addressed their weakness within the athletic industry due to their commitment as mothers.
For many sponsors, including name brands Adidas and Under Armour, an athlete becoming pregnant means the termination of her contract, unless they maintain the same performance level as they did prior to pregnancy.
As a result, both Goucher and Montano intensely trained throughout their pregnancies in order to fulfill the haphazard requirements of Nike. Montano was forced to run a race eight months pregnant while Goucher participated in a competition three months postpartum. Though media outlets saw these actions as a solidarity to feminism, these women raced not toward female empowerment but rather to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.
Despite the fact that Nike eventually responded to the backlash by increasing the allotted grace period to 12 months instead of 10, only responding after shows how ignorant and materialistic the company truly is. Instead of understanding and sympathizing with the fact that most women need time to recuperate and mentally stabilize postpartum, Nike prioritized its wants for glam and glory over the safety of its female athletes.
As one of the biggest shoe companies and sponsorships in the athletic industry, Nike’s main purpose is to increase profits and stabilize its leadership in the industry, but having such a control over this current society comes with its own set of requirements.
While up and coming companies such as Athleta and Lululemon have proposed ambitious ideals that put more women into power and improve regulations regarding females, this supposed leader has done nothing except respond to criticism and only doing the minimum of what should be done.
All of the marketing campaigns and slogans that promote female rights should only be promoted, not for the value it brings, but because the company supports the causes they are fighting for. To add more resonance, the executive positions in charge of handling contracts in Adidas, Nike and Under Armour are almost all men.
The fact that the three international leaders of this industry are entering the conversation of feminism with a governing body that scarcely includes any woman makes the companies unable to truly connect with female athletes about the daily issues they face.
In an era where feminism and female empowerment are at the forefront, these companies have to choose between continuing the sexist culture of sports or inputting true changes into its systems.
If Nike wants to challenge girls to beat the odds, why don’t they do the same.