Allyson Felix’s Olympic gold medal might come from a label that has not always fit her: bad boy.
The forward-leaning Felix, who has dominated track and field for more than a decade, wants to speak out against a variety of social issues, and she is becoming a pioneer in the effort.
“I do see this as a natural extension of what I’ve been doing the last couple of years, working with women’s health issues and the female athlete community,” Felix said. “I think what makes me different is I’m not afraid to speak out in a specific area about helping women. It’s kind of one of those positions where it’s kind of like how do I best put my voice out there and promote change?”
Felix has often been in the spotlight for political matters. But in recent years, the 28-year-old from Southern California has become vocal on the issue of Title IX. Although more than 80 college sports programs have Title IX-enforced compliance deadlines, too many schools do not live up to the rigorous standard that all women and men can participate equally in sports. The problem ranges from concerns about unequal treatment of men’s and women’s teams to a “gender pay gap” and a lack of advancements in women’s academic opportunities.
Felix is a member of “The Bold and Beautiful Conversation,” an educational outreach campaign aimed at student athletes at colleges and universities across the country.
“We work on the things that drive them to challenge their institutions on issues that affect them,” said Rebecca Hunt, executive director of Women’s Sport Foundation, which runs the initiative. “Somebody who is very shy and private might be very comfortable talking about sexual assault or covering things that people don’t have an option to cover.”
Since she has been taking a lead role in these talks, it didn’t take long for a call to come in to FPR’s headquarters on Capitol Hill seeking Felix’s help.
In April, she traveled to D.C. to advocate for Title IX during a dinner hosted by Representatives Dina Titus and Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, who announced they were introducing an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 Title IX reauthorization legislation that would require all colleges receiving federal funding to comply with the requirements of Title IX.
Felix knows what it is like to face adversity. She grew up surrounded by a drug culture and gangs that became her family. At age 14, her best friend died of an overdose in front of her. She went on to be an eight-time All-American at UCLA, earning eight USATF national championships and a bronze medal in the Olympics in 2004.
But just like those other women, Felix wants to bring attention to female athletes who face challenges trying to earn scholarships, find affordable housing or simply get their due academic recognition. She is more aware now than ever that all that she has earned through competition has its limits.
“I’m not willing to just settle for that,” Felix said. “I’m choosing to help out and be a part of change. There’s a lot of people that have a lot of great voices, and I’m lucky to have a platform to use my voice on those issues.”
Felix has been in some high-profile controversies in recent years, including her abrupt departure from Nike in 2016, following a racially charged photo she posted to Instagram. But she said she isn’t focused on what other people think about her, and she doesn’t see the criticism as damaging.
“I understand that things that I do are polarizing. And if it needs to be polarizing, then I’m fine with that,” she said. “At the end of the day, what I have said and done really does have an impact on people.”
“I do think it’s all about purpose,” she added. “I’m very aware that my focus needs to be so much on more girls and women. And I think it just makes me want to be better at whatever I’m doing, and better at what I put out in the world.”