Becoming pregnant as a top female athlete has been described as the “kiss of death” for sponsorships and corporate partnerships. At the same time great strides have been made in many parts of our culture to support pregnant mothers and encourage their professional and personal development through motherhood and beyond, sports sponsors continue to drop female athletes for no other reason than their pregnancy.
Some top athletes have spoken out about feeling coerced into abortion in this anti-Life culture of performance-at-all-costs. Others have courageously chosen Life for their babies and called out some of the biggest brands in athletics for pregnancy discrimination.
One brand is forging the way to supporting elite athletes, regardless of their performance, through pregnancy and beyond. In February, Altra Running announced that the company had signed runners Alysia Montaño and Tina Muir while both women were pregnant. In a Facebook post, Altra Running said, “We are STOKED to welcome six-time US National Champion, World Championship Medalist and Olympian Alysia Montaño along with International Elite Runner and accomplished Podcast Host Tina Muir to the team. In addition to their long list of accomplishments on the track and on the road, both women have powerful voices and have helped forge positive change for women and mothers through their stories and activism.” The post continued, “Voices that align with Altra’s vision to unleash human potential. Positive change that speaks to inclusivity and purpose, and stories that support the ability to overcome and to never be counted out.”
Montaño has led the charge against pregnancy discrimination in athletics. In an op-ed for the New York Times in 2019, Montaño wrote, “Sports take a heavy toll on the human body, and sponsors accommodate this with time off for injuries. But rarely do they offer enough time off to have a child.” Based on her experience and the experience of many fellow athletes and mothers, the article describes the sports world as “a multi-billion-dollar industry that praises women for having families in public — but doesn’t guarantee them a salary during pregnancy and early maternity.”
Following public backlash, Nike and other brands have implemented a maternity policy that guarantees athletes continue to receive pay and bonuses throughout pregnancy and after birth. However, many industry insiders are skeptical of how well those policies will work.
Altra Running is changing the landscape by focusing on the holistic story of top athletes excelling in other areas of their lives in addition to their impressive feats in sports. Montaño, who was almost nine months pregnant with her third child when the sponsorship was announced, told Runner’s World, “For a company like Altra to sign me in pregnancy is so incredible. This is uncharted territory.”
Muir, who is a former professional runner and host of the popular podcast “Running for Real,” explained to Runners World, “[Altra] knew we were both pregnant before we started talking. They decided to embrace it.” She added, “They believe these pregnant bellies should be celebrated. They celebrate the whole person—not just how that person performs.”
Muir, who is pregnant with her second child, due in the summer, has no plans to return to top-tier competition but continues to use her platform as an elite athlete to encourage other female athletes and will continue to compete for fun.
Shanna Burnette, brand communications manager for Altra, told Runner’s World, “[Montaño and Muir] are going to events, speaking, and running. These women are high-caliber athletes. They don’t need extra motivation to do what they want to do.”
Although Altra Running has received a lot of publicity for signing Montaño and Muir, they are not the first brand to include pregnant athletes. Athletic apparel brand Oiselle signed runner Lauren Fleshman while she was pregnant. Sarah Lesko, head of corporate development for Oiselle, explained to Runner’s World, “Out of the gate, we wanted to always recognize the person, not just the athlete, so everything we did was based around that idea. We want to be part of the solution to helping athletes earn good compensation for what they do, and part of that is helping change the sport.”
As the world of professional sports moves to recognize the feats of pregnant and new mothers, we can hope that mothers feel less pressure to choose abortion in an attempt to advance their careers. Women have and can achieve great professional and personal success, but a culture that tells them that success must come at the cost of their preborn babies’ lives is spreading a lie.