Olympic champion Simone Manuel closed a sponsorship deal with Nike last month, continuing to align her personal brand with companies that allow her to publicly push for social justice causes.
“Equality and access to opportunity are themes that certainly factor into my advocacy work, and to me, I think Nike has made it clear where they stand on those issues,” she told SwimSwam via email. “It’s important to me to align with brands and organizations who share my values, so it’s also why I have partnered with the USA Swimming Foundation — to help welcome more people of color into swimming and reduce the risk of drowning, and also why I have joined the ALS Association to help raise awareness and funds around the disease and important, yet often under-funded efforts to find a cure.”
Manuel, who turned professional at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 NCAA season, already has a suit deal in place with TYR – the Nike agreement is exclusively for footwear and apparel, while TYR is for performance swim gear and accessories.
She announced her Nike endorsement on Twitter:
— Simone Manuel (@swimone) November 6, 2018
With her July TYR signing, Manuel became what’s believed to be the first professional athlete to put an “inclusion rider” in her contract. Inclusion riders are a growing trend found primarily in the entertainment industry that, generally speaking, are stipulations included in an individual’s contract that require cast and crew on a set to meet a given level of diversity (this might entail a certain number of women, people of color, LGBT people, or people with disabilities). Manuel declined to disclose the specifics of her Nike contract.
But she has dreamed of becoming an official Nike athlete since she was young, the 23-year-old Manuel said.
“I am deeply committed to supporting people in doing what they are passionate about. I believe that Nike values that just as much as I do. They encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone to achieve their wildest dreams. We are bold and audacious, and their commitment to innovation and driving culture inspires me.”
While it’s not entirely unprecedented for swimmers to sign an apparel deal in addition to their suit deal – Michael Phelps, for example, has a major contract with Under Armour in addition to Speedo – it is somewhat unusual. But in her joining Nike, which at one point had a line of tech suits that have since been discontinued (Cullen Jones and Aaron Peirsol, among others, signed their first suit deals with Nike), Manuel sees an opportunity to expand swimming’s reach.
“I partnered with Nike because it’s a unique opportunity to hopefully bring in a broader audience to the sport of swimming and introduce the sport to those who might not have imagined themselves as swimmers,” she said. “I am honored to be a part of Nike, having always admired how they have told the stories of their athletes and encouraged individuality. They celebrate difference, they embrace athletes’ visions, and they inspire people to go after their hopes of dreams.”
Nike sponsors hundreds of athletes, but its current list includes tennis great Serena Williams, track and field’s Caster Semenya, NBA star LeBron James, and perhaps most prominently as of late, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Those athletes’ involvement in both Nike’s EQUALITY campaign and headline-grabbing 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign “solidified” Manuel’s feeling that she and the brand were a good match.
And in general, Manuel and agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas – who is known for her work in furthering women’s equality in sports representation and quite literally defining the market for WNBA players – are looking for ways to make an impact.
“When looking for potential endorsement deals, we look for partners who hold the same values as I do,” Manuel said. “[Kagawa Colas] challenges me to think outside the box and think differently when looking for potential partners. We are focused on impact, and I would like to serve as an inspiration to others and use my platform to spread a message of inclusivity and uplift others. Through that, we plan to strategically partner with brands that share that goal.”
Manuel won four medals at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and became the first black woman to win gold in swimming with her 100 free victory. She has an additional seven FINA World Championship golds to her name, and is a six-time individual NCAA champion, helping the Stanford Cardinal to titles in 2017 and 2018.