Nike talks the talk… but finds it isn’t as easy to walk the walk

Nike advertises itself as inclusive and supportive of women, but a number of high-profile criticisms from Nike’s athletes and employees have challenged that narrative.


December 12, 2019

Nike is a hot mess of cognitive dissonance. Despite a number of campaigns touting equality for female athletes, Nike faces scrutiny for internal practices that hurt women. As 2019 — the year Nike declared the “year for women” — comes to a close, it’s worth looking back on notable hits and misses. 

Nike paints a pretty picture

Nike has a knack for values-based messaging.

After 2018’s “Dream Crazy” campaign with Colin Kaepernick — which won multiple awards and boosted sales — it launched a “Dream Crazier” campaign telling the tales of top female athletes like gymnast Simone Biles, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, and members of the US Women’s National Soccer Team — all narrated by tennis GOAT Serena Williams.

But all’s not well in Beaverton

In May, Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix penned an explosive op-ed in the NYT detailing how Nike’s sponsorship policies unfairly penalize female athletes who get pregnant. Felix later cut ties with Nike and inked a deal with Athleta.

Then in November, Mary Cain, a record-breaking track and field athlete, published an op-ed claiming emotional and physical abuse at the hands of track coach Alberto Salazar. Salazar, who helmed Nike’s elite Oregon Project, was banned from coaching after the US Anti-Doping Agency found he urged athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs. Cain said he body shamed her toward dangerous weight-loss goal… and other athletes corroborate her allegations.

Earlier this month, hundreds of Nike staff marched across the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon, to call for the company to make real changes in empowering female athletes and employees. The protest was tied to Nike’s reopening of a building named for Salazar. A flier for the event read: “Walk the Talk, Do the Right Thing.”

Don’t get your Dri-Fit in a wad

Nike seems committed to accommodating female athletes — and that goes for the recreational as well as the professional. This week, Nike announced the launch of its Victory swimsuit. Designed with Muslim modesty in mind, the Victory suit has required some truly technical considerations.

Although wearers won’t be as equipped to compete as swimmers wearing, say, Speedo’s Fastskin, the Victory suit points to a cultural shift that sees athletics as something more than competitive sports. Rather, physical activity is something crucial to a woman’s identity and self-esteem. 

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