In Signing Thorisdottir, Nuun Brings Pregnancy Protections Debate to the CrossFit World

June 13, 2019 by and
Photo courtesy of Annie Thorisdottir.
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Last week, when Annie Thorisdottir announced her new partnership with Nuun, her contract came with something unique: a pregnancy clause ensuring that she would continue to receive financial support if she were to decide to take time off to start a family.

“[I am] very honored to be aligned with a partner who shares my commitment to advocating for female representation in sport,” Thorisdottir, who is not pregnant, said in a statement.

Nuun, the makers of hydration products like electrolyte tablets and powders, recently overhauled their existing contracts for their twenty-plus female athlete roster to formalize pregnancy clauses and support athletes throughout the term of their contract, “including through pregnancy.”

“Nuun is on a mission to inspire more movement and a key value in bringing this to life is fostering a level playing field for all athletes,” said Kevin Rutherford, Nuun President and CEO. “We are honored to welcome Annie into the Nuun family and support an extraordinary athlete that demonstrates that success in sport is equally measured through both: results and the way in which you accomplish them.”

“I don’t believe a woman’s value decreases when she gets pregnant or after having a child…Just like it is inspiring for people to follow hard workers in their sport they are also interested in seeing how those hard workers go through pregnancy.” — Annie Thorisdottir

Essentially by doing this, Nuun is contractually recognizing that female athletes still have value when they’re pregnant, not just when they’re competing.

“We have always continued to support our athletes whether or not they podium, PR or become pregnant. We’ve never included termination clauses that would allow us to back out of our supported sponsorship of a partner in sport,” Rutherford wrote in a blog post announcing the change.

Thorisdottir agrees.

“I don’t believe a woman’s value decreases when she gets pregnant or after having a child. Of course many may make the decision to stop doing their sport and that changes things. Just like it is inspiring for people to follow hard workers in their sport they are also interested in seeing how those hard workers go through pregnancy and then even more so showing how they work their way back to the top of their sport.”

One of those hard workers we’ve just watched go through pregnancy is Kara Saunders, the second Fittest Woman on Earth in 2017, who just had her first baby, Scotti.

“My sponsors that still remain chose to support as per usual through my pregnancy,” Saunders told us.

Kara Saunders, the second fittest woman in 2017, took a year off competition to start a family. (Instagram // @KaraSaundo)

That list includes Nike, who sponsored Saunders through her pregnancy and now through her return to competition.

“I think that one year or one season out and things should remain the same,” Saunders said. “Anything beyond that and the athlete is not essentially working or holding up their end of the exchange and it should be expected that there would be an adjustment.”

For athletes like Saunders, who was able to remain active throughout her entire pregnancy, it presented a unique opportunity to inspire moms and female athletes, showcasing what strong moms are capable of off the competition floor too.

Saunders, who has nearly half a million followers on Instagram, was very open and public throughout her pregnancy journey, sharing details on how she’s training, modifying workouts and maintaining her health. Nowhere was this more on display than during the live announcement of 19.2 where 350,000 tuned in to watch Saunders perform a modified version of the workout in her third trimester.

The story that reignited this debate.

This conversation was reignited last month when the New York Times wrote a piece detailing the harsh conditions three Nike track and field athletes went through pre and post-partum to keep their salaries, sometimes making appearances for free and being required to return to competition in order to get paid again.

Two-time Olympian and Nike athlete Kara Goucher told The Times: “It took such a toll on me mentally and physically, for myself and for my child. Returning to competition so quickly was a bad choice for me. And looking back and knowing that I wasn’t the kind of mother that I want to be — it’s gut wrenching.”

In the story, Goucher revealed that Nike would stop paying her until she started racing again.

Since the story broke, two companies have made public announcements amending contracts to include pregnancy protections — Nunn and Burton. And according to a May Footwear News piece, Under Armour, New Balance and Asics revealed that they honor their contracts through pregnancy and have never reduced pay as a result of pregnancy. Nike also told The Times they changed their approach in 2018.

The economics in the Sport of Fitness are closer to that of track and field than basketball or football where athletes are paid a salary to compete in a professional league. The few professional CrossFit athletes  out there derive their income from sponsorship deals and prize money.

Unlike track and field, however, drop clauses for pregnancy are nowhere to be found. In fact, several individuals who’ve been involved with high-level contracts across the industry confirmed that they’ve never even seen one.

“Usually all clauses incorporated [in CrossFit] are to do with competing. If an athlete chooses to, or doesn’t qualify multiple times then there is the option to reduce the arrangement.” — Kara Saunders

There are grounds for an athlete to receive a reduction in pay that can result from an absence from competition or poor performances across multiple seasons, all of which are standard grounds for reductions in any sport.

“Usually all clauses incorporated [in CrossFit] are to do with competing,” Saunders said. “If an athlete chooses to, or doesn’t qualify multiple times then there is the option to reduce the arrangement. Since I’ve only missed one season it isn’t a factor for me just yet.”

Equal pay since year one.

Since the inception of the CrossFit Games in 2007, male and female athletes have been awarded equal prize purses, a practice which was extended to the CrossFit Open when it began in 2011.

“When we first created the CrossFit Games in 2007 and decided to award cash prizes for the winners of events and the overall title, it never even crossed my mind to do anything but make the amounts equal. We do not look to major sports or leagues for guidance on how to handle our sport. We make decisions based on what’s right for our sport, and often times that has to do with what’s fair, morally and ethically,” Greg Glassman wrote in an article last year.

Katrin Davidsdottir and Ben Smith, the winners of the 2015 CrossFit Games awarded the same prize purse.

This core principle is now fundamental to how 15 Sanctionals across the globe and every local competition approach rewarding their athletes.

“I wouldn’t even consider putting on a competition that didn’t award female athletes the same as males. Not a chance,” said Blair Morrison, the co-director of the NorCal Classic competition, an official CrossFit licensed event.

While the CrossFit Games has been dominated largely by U.S. and Western European athletes, the expansion of the 2019-2020 Sanctionals season into 21 countries is an emerging opportunity to further equality in sports abroad.

According to several studies from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Labour Organization, between seven and nine Sanctionals next year reside in countries with some of the worst economic opportunities for women. In these countries, Sanctionals lead from the front presenting female athletes an equality in sport not recognized in their own country.

CrossFit setting the example in prize purses isn’t the only area where the sport is leading.

“I wouldn’t even consider putting on a competition that didn’t award female athletes the same as males. Not a chance.” — Blair Morrison

Top female athletes claim some of the highest salaries in this sport. Their fan base on social media also dwarfs that of male competitors.

Six of the eight athletes with more than a million followers on Instagram are female; only Mathew Fraser (1.6MM) and Rich Froning (1.3MM) are on the list. Tia-Clair Toomey sits just behind the mark with 931,000, which will likely be reached later this year, bringing that number to seven with no other male athlete close by.

Because a standard of equality was set from the sports inception is one reason why the issue of being dropped from your contract as a result of pregnancy hasn’t come up.

Thorisdottir, for example, was surprised to learn that this issue even existed.

“Coming from Iceland where women have enjoyed almost 100% gender equality for years now, this has never crossed my mind when talking to partners. Honestly this is not something I have thought about a lot when signing with new sponsors. I was very surprised to know that some of these companies actually cut the salary like that,” Thorisdottir said.

Whether more brands inside of CrossFit decide to codify these protections remains to be seen, but it’s telling that those at the top of sport continue to receive support through all stages of life and that should continue.

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