Black female athletes have been making a lot of noise in the media lately, and for good reason. Whether it’s standing up to the media like Serena Williams tends to do, opting out important competitive obligations to manage your mental health like Naomi Osaka did, or prioritizing motherhood over a huge Nike endorsement like Allyson Felix, these powerful women are exercising their voices in an inspirational way.
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Just a few weeks ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, Time Magazine is releasing a special issue that highlights mental health, with personal essay by Naomi Osaka. The tennis champion dives into her first Olympics, why the world of sports is need of change, and the importance of prioritizing mental health.
Naomi on prioritizing mental health:
“The world is as divided now as I can remember in my short 23 years. Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for antiracism, are ferociously contested. I mean, wow. So, when I said I needed to miss French Open press conferences to take care of myself mentally, I should have been prepared for what unfolded.”
“I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms—frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me. I also do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again. So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet…. I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s ok to not be ok; and it’s ok to talk about it.”
Famed Olympic Sprinter Allyson Felix used her voice in a powerful way when she spoke up against the brand that discriminated against her when she decided to advocate for maternity protection. After working with Nike for almost a decade, she left them to partner with woman-centered retailer Athleta. Once Nike suggested a 70% pay cut and denied her requests for maternity protection, Felix knew it was time for her to move forward.
“Nike sometimes, they feel like you don’t have another option. So they can get away with stuff like that because, where are you going to go? And I think that’s how I was always perceived: ‘She’s never going to say anything. She’s never going to speak out,’” Felix told Time.
Despite her experience with Nike, Felix went on to break records and make a name for herself after the birth of her daughter. Just 10-months following her emergency c-section, she showed the strength of a woman when she broke Usain Bolt’s gold-medal record at the World Athletics Championships.
I am inspired by these women because they continue to make space for the rest of us by advocating for themselves. Felix proves that motherhood doesn’t have to halt your dreams, and Osaka shows us the power of putting yourself first. You can read the rest of Osaka’s essay and Felix’s interview here.