In 2021, Nike had lost some of the top female athletes it had sponsored, including WNBA two-time champion Breanna Stewart and gymnast Simone Biles. The reasons for the departures, which had taken place over the past several years, varied, but several prominent departing female athletes had accused Nike of bad practices when athletes became pregnant. Track and field star Allyson Felix, in a New York Times op-ed, described how Nike wanted to pay her 70% less after her pregnancy.
An iconic brand since the 1970s, Nike had sponsored many prominent athletes and had tried over the years to attract more women; these accusations were a blow to both its reputation and brand. The company was no stranger to controversy, having weathered, among other conflicts, the 1980s publicity storm of opposition to Nike's using child labor in overseas factories. Nike had put into place new practices and systems to address the problems. The company had stood by Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when the NFL player had garnered intense political and social pushback for kneeling in protest during the US national anthem. However, the accusations by these female athletes and the departure of many to other companies reflected badly on the company. Nike leadership had to decide how to address these issues and, in doing so, retain its reputation, brand, and ability to attract female athletic talent—and retain its relationship with those athletes.