Allyson Felix: Empowering Female Athletes on and off the Track

Allyson Felix: Empowering Female Athletes on and off the Track
Case Code: LDEN181
Case Length: 15 Pages
Period: 2018-2021
Pub Date: 2022
Teaching Note: Available
Price: Rs.300
Organization : Saysh
Industry :Retailing
Countries : United States
Themes: Change Management, Leading Change, Starting New Ventures, Women Entrepreneurs
Allyson Felix: Empowering Female Athletes on and off the Track
Abstract Case Intro 1 Case Intro 2 Excerpts


American track and field sprinter and entrepreneur Allyson Michelle Felix (Allyson) (she), created history at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo by winning her 10th medal in the 400-meter race to become the ‘most decorated female track Olympian’ in the world. She also went on to win a gold medal in the 4x400-meter women’s relay alongside her teammates Dalilah Muhammad (she), Sydney McLaughlin (she), and Athing Mu (she). This, according to Allyson, was her last race in Olympics.

Behind her historic wins, Allyson had had her share of struggles. From 2010 to 2017, she was sponsored by American sportswear manufacturer Nike Inc. (Nike). Her contract expired in December 2017 and her negotiations with Nike were not going well as the sportswear manufacturer offered her a new contract with a pay cut of 70%. It was at this time that she became pregnant and told Nike about her pregnancy in 2018. She requested the company to guarantee contractually that she would not be punished if she underperformed in the months surrounding the birth of her child. Though the sportswear manufacturer agreed orally, however, it declined to add it in writing in her contract that she would be given maternity protections. Thus, in May 2019, Allyson severed her ties with Nike. The same month, i.e. in May 2019, Allyson published an op-ed in American daily newspaper The New York Times wherein she revealed that Nike wanted to under-pay her and had refused to change its maternity policy.

Inspired by her courage to speak out against Nike and the gender injustice female athletes faced when they chose motherhood, US-based women’s active wear brand Athleta Inc. (Athleta) approached Allyson in July 2019, and made her their official apparel sponsor for Olympics. Allyson worked with Athleta on initiatives to empower women and girls through sports. Since Athleta did not make shoes and Allyson had no other shoe sponsor for the Olympics, Allyson and her brother and manager Wes Felix (Wes) decided to launch their own shoe company. In association with former US-based healthcare entrepreneur Darren Breedveld (Breedveld) (he), they founded Saysh in 2020.

In addition to becoming an entrepreneur to create sneakers for women, Allyson was also a change agent as her Nike pregnancy story led to the sportswear manufacturer changing its maternity policy to give female athletes 18 months of paid pregnancy leave. Allyson was also an advocate of protecting the rights of black women during pregnancy as they were more at risk of dying during child birth compared to white women. She became a maternal rights activist after she went through an emergency C-section on being diagnosed with a condition that posed a risk to both her life and her baby’s in November 2018. In 2019, she told the House Committee on Ways and Means to address the challenge of racial disparities and social determinants in maternal mortality crisis.

Allyson received appreciation from several quarters not just for her professional achievements but also for being an empowering icon who was an inspiration to girls, women, and mothers across the world. She was also applauded for her fight for an equitable society not just for female athletes but also for black women working in different fields in the US. From being a ‘quiet and unassuming girl’, Allyson had come a long way, ready to leverage her talent and bring about a change in a positive way.


The case is structured to achieve the following teaching objectives:

  • Appreciate the rise of women entrepreneurs and how they are making efforts to empower women and girls in different fields..
  • Understand how women entrepreneurs can become a change agent and fight for an equitable society for women.
  • Understand the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs with regard to getting the right human capital, raising funds, and managing growth for their business.
  • Discuss the factors that motivated Allyson to become an entrepreneur and launch Saysh.
  • Appreciate Allyson’s efforts for protecting the maternal rights of black women.
  • Explore ways in which Allyson in association with Athleta can empower women and girls through sports.
  • Discuss the personality traits of Allyson which contributed to her success.
  • Discuss the challenges faced by Allyson in her journey.



Allyson Michelle Felix; Saysh; Nike Inc.; Athleta Inc.; Olympic; maternity protections; maternity policy; gender injustice; change agent; racial disparities; women empowerment; House Committee on Ways and Means; equitable society; footwear market; Power of She Fund

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