We live in a society of celebrity worship, in which human beings are far too often reduced to what they do instead of who they actually are. This happens all the time with athletes like LeBron James, who are celebrated for their feats on the court, yet admonished for having the audacity to speak out about issues that impact them as soon as they step off of it.
In its efforts to lead with love and detour from the racial undertones of that narrative, as we inch closer to the Olympic Games, Procter & Gamble has released Your Goodness is Your Greatness, which spotlights amazing athletes who are using their voices and platforms to serve as catalysts for change in their respective communities.
As one of the athletes featured in this campaign, six-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix spoke with The Root to discuss the challenges of preparing for Tokyo during a pandemic, her advocacy for the Black community, and her legacy as an Olympic athlete.
Your Goodness is Your Greatness highlights the important role that parents play in not only raising us, but contributing to our success throughout the course of our lives.
“My parents had a huge role in my growing up,” the 2019 Root 100 honoree said. “They always kept me very grounded. They were great examples of, you know, just a work ethic, just hard, hard workers. And no matter what you do, do it with integrity and character. And I think that really just gave me a great foundation.”
That great foundation continues on today, as Felix is committed to instilling similar values in her own daughter, Cammy.
“I felt like I had a great example with my own mother in the way that she was so thoughtful raising me, with such kindness and patience,” Felix said. “To my daughter, it looks like giving her the tools to be able to navigate this life. It’s [...] being patient with her, but also showing her very real examples and making sure that she’s in an environment that teaches her that. And that I have people around her as well that I want her to emulate.”
As Felix alluded to, mentors play a pivotal role in our success as well. And for all of her accolades, the Los Angeles native is acutely aware of how one of her own mentors, fellow Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, has contributed to the athlete and mother that Felix is today.
“It’s huge,” she said of Joyner-Kersee’s impact. “It’s the mentor that has a real relationship with you. Someone that you can actually call or talk to and who guides you through things. I had an amazing mentor in my life. [She’s] a phenomenal athlete, but just a very genuine person. [She’s] someone who cares about your future in a professional sense, but also cares about the person that you are; making sure that they’re just as influential in that part of your life.”
Athletes pride themselves on their meticulous level of preparation, but one thing none of them could’ve ever prepared for is a global pandemic. So between COVID-19 and postponements that’ve pushed the Tokyo Olympics back an entire year, Felix admits to being challenged like never before.
“I think the biggest challenge was having a place to train,” she said. “I live in Los Angeles and we have been super locked down. We were training on the beach; any area that was open and isolated during all of that. [...] We went to Arizona for a bit to train because we literally were getting kicked out of tracks here.”
This pandemic has also seen athletes become far more vocal in addressing social justice. (Felix herself is an outspoken proponent of Black Lives Matter.) And despite the fact that the International Olympic Committee has banned protests of any sort during the Olympics, Felix believes that Tokyo provides a “great opportunity” to continue to address these issues.
“I just feel like it’s a very special time right now being an athlete and being able to use your voice,” she said. “I just know how important my community is to me. Here we are leading up to our biggest stage and I definitely want to continue to do that.”
So, as the 35-year-old prepares for her final trip to the Olympic Games as the only female track and field athlete to ever win six Olympic gold medals, it’s the perfect time to reflect on her legacy as a legendary athlete and how she wants to be remembered.
“I think years ago I would have said for the record,” she said. “For running fast and for all the medals and the things on the track. I think over the last couple of years, I will say I hope that I’m remembered as someone who really impacted how women are treated in sports. How I push for maternal protection in contracts and just using my voice [...] to fight on behalf of women.”
I think it’s safe to say that Felix has completely changed the game in regards to how women are both perceived and treated in professional sports, and we wish her the best at the Summer Olympics.