A Seismic Shift in the World of Athletics?

Major sports brands are pledging their commitment to female empowerment. But is it just mere lip service? Iona Tompkins discusses.

On the 22nd of October, the CEOs of both Nike and Under Armour announced they would be stepping down from their respective positions. Despite these brands increasingly placing an emphasis on female empowerment in their advertising, this has yet to be translated into actuality for either of these behemothic players within athletic wear. Both Mark Parker of Nike and Kevin Plank of Under Armour will be replaced by yet more white men, with both of their replacements having been previously affiliated with the companies they are now running.

Upon examining where both these candidates have been selected from, the lack of diversity becomes unsurprising. Parker’s replacement John Donahoe has been on Nike’s board since 2014, and Under Armour newcomer Patrick Frisk was the only candidate considered, and has been tipped for the role since 2017. This worrying trend suggests an urgent need to focus on diversity of gender and background within areas such as the company’s board and other high level positions so that real progress can be made. 

Whilst both companies spend millions employing female athletes to promote them and producing commercials that place women front and centre, this seems to be a smokescreen that conceals a far less forward thinking approach within the companies themselves. Nike has recently come under long overdue criticism for cutting female athlete’s sponsorship and funding during their pregnancy if they are not competing. It took the iconic image of Alysia Montano competing eight months pregnant and a video exposé in the New York Times for Nike to change its backwards and borderline illegal practises. The icing on the cake? Unsurprisingly, the four Nike executives responsible for negotiating contracts for track and field athletes were all men.

Having just one female executive on that board, or a male executive with a greater focus on feminism in the workplace might have meant that Nike could have corrected this gross injustice itself, without having to be held accountable through international media attention. Until these companies start practising what they preach, their slogans encouraging women to ‘dream crazier’ and ‘I will what I want’ will ring hollow. 

Iona Tompkins