In a scathing new video published in the New York Times opinion section, former phenom runner Mary Cain alleges that her years of professional training under the Nike Oregon Project and its running coach, Alberto Salazar, devolved into an abusive atmosphere that resulted in Cain suffering from severe mental and physical health issues during her time with Nike.
When Cain was 17, she left her home state of New York to run professionally with the most competitive running team in the nation, the Nike Oregon Project, while going to school at the University of Portland.
But in an emotionally intense testimony about the running culture at Oregon's flagship company, Cain describes her mental and physical deterioration during her four years under Salazar's coaching.
"I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike," says Cain in the video, adding that "an all-male Nike staff became convinced that in order to get better, I had to become thinner, and thinner, and thinner."
Cain alleges how her body broke down over the years because of persistent weight-shaming from Salazar and other staff members. She says she broke five bones during her time with the team.
Alberto's tactics for getting Cain to drop down to a goal weight of 114 pounds included demanding she take diuretics and birth control pills, and weighing her in front of her teammates and publicly shaming her if she didn't hit the goal weight he had set, she alleges.
Cain says the lack of a trained sports psychologist inhibited her from having the resources to deal with intense emotional pressure and abuse from her coaching staff, and when she tried to reach out to staff members about her struggles, most of who Cain says were Salazar's close friends, "they would always just tell me the same thing, and that was to listen to Alberto."
Cain describes how she felt "scared, alone and trapped." She says she started self-harming as a result of the abuse. In one particularly jarring moment in the video detailing Cain's journey, Cain describes how she told Salazar about her self-harm after she under-performed in a race in 2015. She says that Salazar and the other staff member who was present told her that "they just wanted to go to bed."
She says that was the moment when she realized the system was "sick," and left for home shortly after.
Nike spokesperson Greg Rossiter tells WW that the video was the first they've heard of Cain's allegations.
"These are deeply troubling allegations which have not been raised by Mary or her parents before," Rossiter said. "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 testimony is the newest hit, and perhaps the most powerful one yet, in a string of Nike-related scandals over the past several years.
In early 2018, a wave of gender discrimination lawsuits tarnished Nike's image.
In September of 2019, Salazar was slapped with a four year ban from the U.S Anti-Doping Agency after being caught enabling and encouraging his athletes to dope.
Then, in October, Nike CEO Mark Parker announced he was stepping down from the position he held for 13 years. The company presented the decision as one that would usher in a new era of technology-driven business, and said it was not related to Salazar's doping scandal.