Even so, glaring equality gaps persist: At the 2014 and 2018 Winter Games, men had three separate ski jump events, while women only had one. “It’s like, ‘Here, we’ll give you a little piece,’ and then, ‘Go away, leave us alone,'” Lindsey Van, a now-retired American ski jumper who helped lead the discrimination lawsuit, told the Chicago Tribune in 2018. “I still think that it’s an old boys’ club.” According to 2022 Beijing Games website, there will be a new mixed team event in ski jumping; there is no mention of any new women’s-only competitions.
Olympic Runners Speak Out About Poor Industry Maternity Policies
Last spring, several Olympians-slash-mothers—including Alysia Montaño, Allyson Felix, and Kara Goucher—spoke out about the sporting industry’s lack of support for women athletes both during and after pregnancy. “The sports industry allows for men to have a full career,” Montaño said in an op-ed video for the Times last May. “When a woman decides to have a baby, it pushes women out at their prime.” The women specifically called out Nike, Asics, The United States Olympic Committee, and U.S.A. Track & Field. “I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I wouldn’t be punished if I didn’t perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth,” Felix wrote in an op-ed for the Times published in May. “I wanted to set a new standard.”
Three months after the allegations, Nike (who Felix said had previously denied her asks) announced a new maternity policy for all sponsored athletes that guarantees pay and bonuses for 18 months surrounding pregnancy. Three other athletic apparel companies adopted maternity protections for sponsored athletes as well, according to the New York Times.
Mary Cain Calls for More Women in Power
Last November, former teen phenom runner Mary Cain waged allegations of emotional and physical abuse against Nike’s Oregon Project. In a powerful op-ed video by the New York Times, titled “I Was the Fastest Girl in America—Until I Joined Nike,” Cain described how the all-male staff of the elite training team, helmed by coach Alberto Salazar, constantly pressured her to lose weight. While running with the team, Cain said she didn’t get her period for three years, broke five bones, started to cut herself, and had suicidal thoughts. And when the young athlete shared her self-harming habits with Salazar and the team’s sport psychologist? The men “pretty much told me they just wanted to go to bed,” Cain said.
Cain called on more women to assume leadership roles in the sporting world. “We need more women in power,” Cain said in the video. “Part of me wonders if I’d worked with more female psychologists, nutritionists, and even coaches, where I’d be today. I got caught in a system designed by and for men which destroys the bodies of young girls. Rather than force young girls to fend for themselves, we have to protect them.”
After the video went viral, eight other athletes with Nike’s Oregon Project quickly backed up Cain’s claims with some sharing their own stories of mistreatment. Salazar denied the claims, and Nike announced it would investigate the allegations. Meanwhile, the video’s ripple effect continued: In December, hundreds of Nike employees protested the company’s support of Salazar and treatment of its female employees and sponsored athletes. And in January, the U.S. Center for SafeSport placed Salazar on its “temporarily banned list,” which could result in a lifetime ban.
Serena Williams Takes Aim At Gender Inequality in Sports
Legend Serena Williams is not afraid to speak her mind and challenge the status quo. From calling the pay gap for female athletes “ludicrous” to candidly sharing the struggles of motherhood to accusing an umpire of sexism during the 2018 U.S. Open, Williams has shown that she’s willing to speak up loud and clear on issues that matter to her.
Earlier this year, Williams announced a partnership with Secret that addresses inequality in sports. “Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I deserve less—I work just as hard,” Williams told Glamour. Through the partnership, Williams and the brand are launching a study on gender inequality in sports to pinpoint three to four areas of need. From there, they’ll distribute $1 million to hopefully create true change. “I’ve given up so much in my life and I’ve sacrificed so much. Why do I have to get paid less?” Williams said. “I feel like women in sports are fighting with that right now.” And with Williams’s influence and Secret’s backing, perhaps that fight can go one step further.
*Special thanks to [Paula D. Welch](https://vivo.ufl.edu/display/n14886) and [Bonnie J. Morris](http://www.bonniejmorris.com/) for providing invaluable insight on the history of women in sports.*