By Breann Campise
Mary Cain was the fastest girl in America, until she joined Nike.
When Cain was just a teenager, she was winning every track race and set many national records in distance racing. When she was only 16, she got a call from Alberto Salazar, the head coach of the Nike elite team, and the most famous coach in the sport. During her freshman year of college, she moved to train for him professionally through the Oregon Project at Nike World Headquarters.
On November 7, 2019 Cain released a seven–minute video sharing her story about the abuse that she endured by a “system designed by Alberto Salazar and endorsed by Nike”. Throughout her time at the Oregon Project, her all–male coaches became fixated on how much weight they wanted her to lose. Alberto was giving her birth control pills and diuretics, the second of which is illegal in the sport. He also forced her to weigh–in in front of her teammates and would publicly shame her if she weighed in over 115lbs. Cain explains that she felt alone, trapped, and suicidal, which resulted in her cutting herself. When brought to the attention of Alberto, it was overlooked. After that, she made the hard decision to quit the project. “I wasn’t trying to make the Olympics anymore; I was just trying to survive”.
In September 2019, Alberto was banned for four years over a doping scandal which caused Nike to shut down the Oregon Project. Yet this was only a result from the doping, not the treatment of their female athletes. “You can’t just fire a coach and eliminate a program, and pretend the problem is solved. My worry is that Nike merely going to rebrand the old program and put Alberto’s old assistant coaches in charge”. Unless someone does something to stop this treatment, more female child prodigies are going to be victim to the system. While it was Alberto and the Oregon Project that were the abusers for Cain, Nike simply looked the other way. In my opinion, the Oregon Project and every coach involved should be banned for life. It also needs to be a requirement that all elite female teams have a female coach. Cain says that she wonders if she would have the same outcome if she worked with any female coaches. Lastly, Nike needs to step up. Especially in the world of track and field, Nike owns everything. They control the best coaches, athletes, meets, and even the governing body. This lets them get away with more than they should. There needs to be more regulation of power between other programs.
The abuse that Cain faced is not the only problem. Young female athletes are being treated like this in every sport, from middle school to college to professional. Coaches need to step up and be held to a higher power. Too many coaches are getting away with pushing athletes to the limit in unhealthy ways to try to get them to the next level and using the excuse of “that’s what it takes”. Sacrificing mental health and body weight is not a part of the sport and more coaches need to understand this before they become the most influential person in an athlete’s life. Having regulations put in place for all coaches can hopefully stop these problems before they start and save the next generation from a corrupt system of putting performance above health.
There’s a quote that reads, “A good coach can change a game, a great coach can change a life”. However, a bad coach can ruin a life.