Olympic and world champion Simone Manuel announced her first suit deal with TYR Sport Tuesday in Irvine ahead of the 2018 Phillips 66 National Championships, and though monetary details of her contract have not been made public, it does include an “inclusion rider” believed to be the first of its kind in professional sports.
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).
The concept was introduced in a 2016 TED talk by USC professor Stacy Smith, later made famous by Frances McDormand‘s 2018 Oscar acceptance speech in which she concluded: “I have two words for you: inclusion rider.”
The most similar concept in sports until now was the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which mandates that teams interview candidates of minority ethnic backgrounds for high-level positions; however, that rule does not require teams to actually hire any of the interviewed candidates.
In TYR‘s official press release Tuesday, it stated the following about Manuel’s rider:
“Through this stipulation Simone ensures that her partners extend meaningful opportunities to traditionally underrepresented groups and that diversity be reflected in the creative efforts she pursues with the brand. TYR believes in the importance of diversity in the workplace and is proud to support Simone in her efforts to champion inclusion as both a best practice in business and a central tenet of her identity as a professional athlete.”
No further information was given about what those opportunities and efforts will entail. However, in her press conference, Manuel referred specifically to those involved in the “production process.” This could potentially include the non-athlete models the company employs, or the crew used to shoot advertisements, among other contributors to the process.
Smith was involved in the writing of Manuel’s rider, Bloomberg’s Eben Novy-Williams reported.
Just hours before announcing her deal, Manuel, 21, penned an article for The Undefeated called “A Letter to My Younger Self,” which highlights her experience growing up as a black person in a predominantly white sport, and the importance of representation. The following is an excerpt from her piece:
“When I felt like quitting, I thought about Cullen Jones, Tanica Jamison, Sabir Muhammad, Maritza Correia (now a good friend of mine). Their stories taught me that my own success was bigger than me, that my dreams should never be limited by the assumptions of others. I was here to carve my own path, to widen the lane for others.
I was not here to apologize for my ambition.
During and after the Rio Games, there were moments when my resolve was tested, when the doubts crept in again. Winning on the sport’s biggest stage has a way of eliciting strong reactions from the public, good and bad. On social media, people applauded my role in history; they also talked about my hair. A lot. They called me the “black swimmer” while commenting on my body in ways that felt minimizing to the effort, dedication and sacrifices it took for me even to arrive on that stage.
I had to summon the strength I borrowed from those who came before me. I thought about Serena Williams and the ferocity she brings to being a champion, the empowering confidence she has in herself. People don’t always like “different” — and it often scares them the most when it’s wrapped in excellence.
Sometimes I feel like I’m alone on an island. Reporters ask me questions that other swimmers, white swimmers, are never asked. They want me to talk about social justice issues, Colin Kaepernick, athlete protests. I want to contribute to the conversation and lead, but I’m not the voice of Black America. And when people single me out like that, they’re reducing me to a label — “the black swimmer” — when I know I am so much more.
Yes, there’s a part of me that feels like I was born to do this, to live a unique and audacious life. Aren’t we all? But there is no limit on black excellence. There were others before me, elite American swimmers who happened to be black, and I can promise you there are more to come, hopefully many more.
Representation matters. People, especially kids, need to see it to believe it can be done. If I could go back in time, I would encourage 12-year-old Simone to embrace the boldest part of herself — the desire and confidence it took to get in the water and stay in. Because it felt like home. I would tell her to honor her passion, letting it fuel her journey while inspiring others.”
Manuel hails from Sugar Land, Texas, and in 2016 became the first black woman to win individual Olympic gold in swimming, winning the 100 free in Rio. She told The New York Times later that year that she “carries the weight of the black community” with her, but hopes one day not to be known as “Simone the black swimmer.”