PORTLAND, Ore. — Scathing allegations against Nike, from a big name in track and field.
Mary Cain was once the fastest girl in America and a member of the elite "Nike Oregon Project." She claims track coach Alberto Salazar ruined her body and career.
Cain set many national records. At 16-years-old, she said she got a call from Salazar at Nike who told her she was the most talented athlete he had ever seen. Her freshman year of college, she signed on with Nike’s Oregon Project.
Cain sat down for an interview with the New York Times to share her story. In the New York Times Op-Ed video, Cain says, "I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever. Instead, I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike."
New York Times Reporter Lindsay Crouse, a runner herself, interviewed Cain.
“I think to me, I was like, your story is actually so powerful, but it's not powerful because of the illegal stuff, it's powerful because what's legal,” Crouse explained.
Cain told Crouse the all-male coaching staff, run by Salazar, convinced her that in order to get better she had to lose weight.
“I had to become thinner, and thinner, and thinner,” Cain said in the video.
“But the outcome is, that she was driven to extreme eating and this is such a ubiquitous thing that happens all the time and I think it's again, why we don't just want to tell these stories, and be like, 'Oh that was a sad story'. We want to tell these stories and think about why things are the way they are, again, this is all legal, this is all fine, this is a really common practice in many cases,” Crouse explained.
When young female athletes do not eat enough to keep up with their activity level, it can lead to a serious condition called RED-S Syndrome. Women stop having their periods and lose bone density. Cain said she did not have a period for three years and broke five different bones.
“I got caught in a system designed by and for men, which destroys the bodies of young girls,” Cain said.
It got to a point where Cain said she was having suicidal thoughts and started cutting herself. She said she told Salazar and another member of the coaching staff about it, but no one helped her.
Eventually she quit the team. Cain said it took so long to share her story because she was not mentally or physically ready to share it before.
"I couldn't have sat in front of a camera and told my story and told it with power before today because the person right here, right now, knows this is not okay, knows this has to change, and knows that I will make sure it does because I don't want any young girl going through what I went through,” Cain said.
Nike released a statement saying, “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.”
Read the full New York Times Op-Ed here.