Nike is standing by world-class marathoner-turned-coach Alberto Salazar in the wake of a four-year ban issued by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association.
As head coach of the Nike Oregon Project, Salazar is accused of “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct,” following two independent inquiries led by three-member panels of the American Arbitration Association. Jeffrey Brown M.D., a physician who worked with some of the athletes in the Nike-supported program is also facing a four-year ban. The 61-year-old Salazar has coached such elite runners as Mo Farah, Kara Goucher, Alan Webb and Amy Yoder Begley. And visitors to Nike’s vast corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., are familiar with the building that was named for Salazar years ago.
The USADA reported that after the two evidentiary hearings, a seven-day one for Salazar and a six-day one for Brown, as well as “lengthy post-hearing review of all the evidence and testimony,” the panels found that the two men “trafficked testosterone, a banned performance-enhancing substance, administered a prohibited IV infusion, and engaged in tampering to attempt to prevent relevant information about their conduct from being learned by USADA.”
A Nike spokesman declined to say Tuesday whether the Oregon Project will go forward. He issued the following statement, “Today’s decision had nothing to do with administering banned substances to any Oregon Project athlete. As the panel noted, they were struck by the amount of care Alberto took to ensure he was complying with the World Anti-Doping Code. We support Alberto in his decision to appeal and wish him the full measure of due process that the rules require. Nike does not condone the use of banned substances in any manner.”
USADA is responsible for the testing and “results management process” for athletes in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movement.
The Nike spokesman also did not respond when asked for a response to a media report that Nike chief executive officer Mark Parker had been briefed by Salazar about experiments with performance-enhancing drugs, according to the anti-doping agency’s report.
USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart said in a statement that while acting in connection with the Nike Oregon Project, Salazar and Brown “demonstrated that winning was more important than the health and wellbeing of the athletes they were sworn to protect.”
A lengthy statement attributed to Salazar was posted Monday on the Nike Oregon Project homepage. “I am shocked by the outcome today. Throughout this six-year investigation my athletes and I have endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from USADA. This is demonstrated by the misleading statement released by Travis Tygart stating that we put winning ahead of athlete safety. This is completely false and contrary to the findings of the arbitrators, who even wrote about the care I took in complying with the World Anti-Doping Code: ‘The panel notes that the respondent does not appear to have been motivated by any bad intention to commit the violations the panel found. In fact, the panel was struck by the amount of care generally taken by respondent to ensure that whatever new technique or method or substance he was going to try was lawful under the World Anti-Doping Code, with USADA’s witness characterizing him as the coach they heard from the most with respect to trying to ensure that he was complying with his obligations.’”
Salazar’s statement continued, “I have always ensured the WADA code is strictly followed. The Oregon Project has never and will never permit doping. I will appeal and look forward to this unfair and protracted process reaching the conclusion I know to be true. I will not be commenting further at this time.”
Nike stock closed trading Monday at $93.92, which indicated a decline of more than 26 percent since the beginning of 2019.