2019 Sports, Health and Wellness, Large Newsroom finalist

Nike Told Me to Dream Crazy, Until I Wanted a Baby

About the Project

In May, The New York Times Opinion Video department published a series called “Dream Maternity,” featuring an Op-Ed Video with Olympian Alysia Montano evoking Nike’s viral “Dream Crazy” ad and exposing the contradictions between truth and advertising: While Nike’s ads preach equality, its sponsored athletes face pay cuts during pregnancy.

Our goal was simple: real-world change in the maternity policies of sports companies supporting thousands of American sponsored female athletes.

Nike, an advertising juggernaut, works with the best agencies to permeate minds around the world through inspirational ads meant to define generations. It was clear that if we wanted Nike’s attention, or the attention of its most ardent consumers, we would need to speak its language. We co-opted their own inspiring aesthetics to tell a fuller and more truthful story, going beyond feeling moved to buy sneakers. Our mission was to harness the same universal emotions of defeat and triumph, adversity and challenge — to challenge Nike itself.

We sought to ignite a conversation around female athletes who already had wide public visibility and support—and whose pregnancies were marketed by the same companies that were secretly penalizing them. The video aimed narrowly at companies and governing bodies in sports to trigger policy changes and disrupt an industry still dominated by men.

We published on Mother’s Day, hours before Nike launched its own Mother’s Day ad on gender equality, so the two videos could speak to each other online (on YouTube, algorithms ran Nike ads before our video). “Dream Maternity” immediately became one of the most-shared assets on our site, and accrued over 1 million views on YouTube in a week.

The first package included text explaining our reporting and featuring the exclusive accounts of other Nike athletes who had been pregnant while with the company: pro-runners Kara Goucher, who made over a dozen unpaid media appearances for Nike while pregnant, and Phoebe Wright, who called pregnancy “the kiss of death” for a female athlete.

All athletes broke NDAs by exposing a truth they had felt powerless to change. The story drew entirely on original reporting from one of our senior editors, a sub-elite marathoner who had followed the story for years.

Due to the immediate public reaction, we published a Q&A two days later to extend the dialogue and address questions.

One columnist wrote after the first video, “Unsurprisingly, the Times article hasn’t, thus far, inspired any Nike runners to break rank and call out their corporate benefactor.” One did just that in an exclusive follow-up story we published a week later, an Op-Ed Video and text from Allyson Felix. One of the world’s most decorated athletes ever, and a Nike darling, Felix revealed that as recently as April, she requested pregnancy rights be written into her contract – Nike declined. Felix asked, “If I can’t secure maternity protections, who can?”

Taken together, the “Dream Maternity” project is a case study in the power of video journalism to move public opinion and provoke policy change beyond traditional print reporting.