TheGrio Awards, The Sports Icon: Allyson Felix

The track star and women’s rights activist called out Nike for its failure to support pregnant athletes, forever shifting the narrative around the issues of maternal health.

Just watching Allyson Felix run can induce a vicarious rush of adrenaline, even for the armchair athlete. She’s earned 11 Olympic medals in her 20-year career, and even in the final months leading up to her retirement, the GOAT of women’s track and most decorated U.S. athlete in the sport won bronze at the 2022 World Championships, setting a record for most wins in that competition, too.

Even when she’s done running, she’s not done winning. Using her reign as a top-tier athlete, she’s advocated for Black maternal health and women in sports, starting in 2019 when she stood up to former sponsor Nike for proposing a 70% cut to her contractual pay when she became pregnant.

A 2022 Time Woman of the Year, she’s testified about maternal health inequities after overcoming her own preeclampsia nightmare; founded a lifestyle brand, Saysh, that offers a generous return policy for new moms; and partnered with new sponsor Athleta to provide free child care for female athletes. Oh, and after Felix shared her story, Nike announced a new and much-improved maternity policy for sponsored athletes. On the track and off, Felix’s greatest legacy may be her courage to shatter existing standards.

Janelle Harris Dixon is a writer, journalist and editor in southeast Washington, D.C., with a special love for covering stories at the intersection of race, gender, class and culture.

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