As first woman to claim the Roy Firestone Award, Allyson Felix says ‘This is so much bigger than me’

USC alum talks about pregnancy and transgender athletes during gala.

Photo of Roy Firestone and Allyson Felix with the 28th Annual Roy Firestone Award.

As the most decorated American Track and Field Olympian ever, Allyson Felix is no stranger to being first. On June 25, Felix was first yet again, but this time not on the track.

Felix became the first female honoree of the Roy Firestone Award at the 28th Annual Roy Firestone Award Gala hosted at the Beverly Hilton Hotel by Westcoast Sports Associates (WSA), a nonprofit organization that helps give disadvantaged children the opportunity to play sports.

“From the bottom of my heart, the person we’re honoring tonight is one hell of a human being,” said Roy Firestone, an acclaimed sports journalist who originally hosted ESPN’s Up Close. The award was named after him in 1996 for joining WSA after being the first honoree for his community service towards assisting disadvantaged children play sports.

Felix now joins a prestigious list of former honorees including Jim Brown, Wayne Gretzky, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, USC alum Pete Carrol and more. Firestone also noted that WSA was embarrassed to have taken this long to honor a woman.

“We have tried to have a great woman figure as our honoree for many years,” Firestone said. “Because of mostly scheduling – people like Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Serena Williams – they couldn’t do it, or they committed to it and at the last minute they had to cancel.”

The award was yet another incredible accomplishment for Felix in the past year. Felix was USC’s 2022 commencement speaker after receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree the same year. In April, USC renamed Cromwell Field after Felix.

“When I reflect back on my career and just the things I’ve been able to do, I feel extremely blessed,” Felix said from the stage during an interview with Firestone as audience members ate quietly. “Not in my wildest dreams would I have dreamt that life would take me in these places.”

During the Firestone and Felix interview, the two conversed about a variety of topics surrounding Felix’s accomplishments, both on and off the track. At times in the interview, a screen displayed pictures of Felix and the important people in her life, as well as videos of major races Felix won. She narrated her thought process as they showed.

For example, Felix talked about the struggles of hiding her pregnancy in 2018, going as far as working out at 4 a.m. so no one could see her body. Felix feared Nike, a sponsor of hers for nearly a decade, wouldn’t pay her if they knew she was pregnant. Although Felix later became the forefront activist of securing maternal protections for female athletes, she noted she was initially nervous to speak up and set a precedent.

“There are so many women who came before me who went through the same thing,” Felix said. “Becoming a mother and realizing this is so much bigger than me led me to speak out on these issues.”

Felix also spoke on the tragic death of Tori Bowie, an Olympic track and field athlete who won a gold medal with Felix in 2016. Bowie died on April 23 due to complications related to childbirth, an issue Felix cares deeply about due to her own personal experience of nearly losing her daughter who was born two months early.

“Women of color are at risk,” Felix said. “To have this happen with Tori is just so devastating and I think it is another wake up call of the work we have to do to combat these issues that women are facing. It should not be this dangerous to give birth here in America in 2023.”

Felix and Firestone discussed the issue of transgender athletes in sports and Felix expressed her belief in making sports inclusive.

“Everyone should be included in sports,” Felix said. “Sports has the power to transform. It has meant so much in my life and it is a complicated issue, but it’s one that I think we need to get right.”

The gala featured a silent and live auction with autographed sports memorabilia, event tickets, vacation packages and more. At the end of the night, it was announced that more than $100,000 was raised for WSA.

Since its creation in 1994, WSA has been able to administer more than $250,000 a year in grant funding to youth sports programs and community recreation centers in Southern California, meaning more than 10,000 kids per year have had new opportunities to be involved in sports.

“It’s a source of pride for these kids,” Firestone said. “Staying away from gangs, staying away from drugs, getting invested and being a part of a team.”

Mike Gottlieb, current WSA president and co-founder along with W. Chip Eggers, Allen Lynch and Mike Rosenberg, reflected on what WSA’s journey meant to him and his co-founders.

“Almost 30 years ago we came up with this idea and never in our wildest dreams did we think it would turn into this,” Gottlieb said. “[Never] did we think we would help tens of thousands of kids get an opportunity to play sports, and without us, they wouldn’t have those opportunities.”