In response to elite runner Mary Cain’s allegations of forced weight loss and public shaming by former coach Alberto Salazar at a now-disbanded Nike-supported running program, Nike has started an investigation into the matter.
Cain aired her claims in an oped New York Times video Thursday: “I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike.” The seven-minute video had nearly 317,000 views as of Friday afternoon. A teenage running sensation and former Olympic hopeful, Cain signed with the Nike-backed team in 2013. She alleged that Salazar publicly shamed her for not being thin enough and described how weight loss was fundamental to the program. The New York-based athlete claimed when she told Salazar and a sport psychologist after a meet in May 2015 that she had been cutting herself [as a form of self-harm], “they pretty much told me they wanted to go to bed.” Cain said she then informed her parents of the situation and left on the first available flight.
When asked for comment regarding Cain’s allegations Friday, a Nike spokesman issued the following statement: “These are deeply troubling allegations which have not been raised by Mary or her parents before. Mary was seeking to rejoin the Oregon Project and Alberto’s team as recently as April of this year and had not raised these concerns as part of that process. We take the allegations extremely seriously and will launch an immediate investigation to hear from former Oregon Project athletes. At Nike, we seek to always put the athlete at the center of everything we do, and these allegations are completely inconsistent with our values.”
Cain’s oped also claimed that Nike needs to change because it “controls all the top coaches, athletes, races and even the governing body,” and there is a need for more women to be in charge. Cain, who could not be reached immediately for comment Friday, referred to a possible return in a tweet Friday morning. She posted, “As recently as this summer, I still thought: ‘maybe if I rejoin the team, it’ll go back to how it was.’ But we all come to face our demons in some way. For me, that was seeing my old team this last spring.”
Her current coach John Henwood did not respond immediately to a request for comment Friday regarding Nike’s response. Representatives for Cain acknowledged a request, but requested “patience with expectation of a reply.”
The Cain controversy is the latest firestorm that the $36.8 billion athletic powerhouse has faced in recent weeks. Last month Nike initially stood by Salazar, who was handed a four-year ban issued by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct,” at Nike’s Oregon Project. But 10 days later officials at the company backtracked, parting ways with Salazar and dismantling the Oregon Project. In her video, Cain said, “You can’t just fire a coach and eliminate a program and pretend the problem is solved,” she said.
Former Oregon Project runner Cam Levins tweeted Friday about how the coaching staff was “obsessed” with Cain’s weight as an obstacle in her performance, and spoke openly of it with other athletes. Elite runners Amy Yoder Begley and Nike-sponsored four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan also tweeted support. Former Nike-sponsored runner Kara Goucher weighed in on Twitter Friday about Nike’s response: “Takes the time to victim-shame Mary, before saying they will investigate. I hope you come to me, because I have stories to match all of Mary’s claims and so much more. Don’t let this be more lip service, actually do something.”
In mid-October, Nike got caught in the crossfire of the National Basketball Association’s kerfuffle about the China-Hong Kong debate. As a sponsor of the league, Nike was criticized for staying silent. LeBron James and numerous other Nike-sponsored athletes, however, aired their pro-China views, which was another point of ire for some.
Two weeks ago Nike announced that chairman, chief executive officer and president Mark Parker will become executive chairman in January. In turn, John Donahoe will pick up the roles of president and ceo.
Read more from WWD:
WATCH: NYFW Is Back on Top, Thanks to These Young Designers