November 7, 2019
Today The New York Times has published a video essay by Mary Cain where she harshly criticized Alberto Salazar and Nike for her treatment when she was a member of the Nike Oregon Project. You can watch the full seven minute video below. If you don’t have seven minutes, we’ve typed up a full transcript of Cain’s comments and they appear below the video.
Talk about the video on our messageboard: MB: Explosive New York Times article: Mary Cain breaks silence about NOP
Full transcript of Cain’s comments:
I was the fastest girl in America. I set many national records and I was a straight-A student. When I was 16, I got a call from Alberto Salazar at Nike. He was the world’s most famous track coach and he told me I was the most talented athlete he’d ever seen. During my freshman year at college, I moved out to train with him and his team at Nike World Headquarters. It was a team of the fastest athletes in the world and it was a dream come true.
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. This is what happened to me.When I first arrived, an all-male Nike staff became convinced that in order for me to get better, I had to become thinner and thinner and thinner. This Nike team was the top running program in the country and yet we had no certified sports psychologist, there was no certified nutritionist. It was really a bunch of people who were Alberto’s friends. So when I went to anybody for help they would always just tell me the same thing, and that was to listen to Alberto.
Alberto was constantly trying to get me to lose weight. He created an arbitrary number of 114 pounds and would usually weigh me in front of my teammates and publicly shame if I wasn’t hitting weight. He wanted to give me birth control pills and diuretics to lose weight — the latter of which isn’t allowed in track and field. I ran terrible during this time. We reached a point where I was on the starting line and I’d lost the race before I started because in my head all I was thinking of was not the time I was trying to hit but the number on the scale I saw earlier that day. It would be naive to not acknowledge the fact that weight is important in sports. It’s like boxers need to maintain a certain weight or everybody ends up studying the math where the thinner you are, the faster you are going to run as you have to carry less weight.
But here’s a biology lesson I learned the hard way. When young women are forced to push themselves beyond what they are capable of at their given age, they are at risk for developing RED-S [Syndrome]. Suddenly you realize you’ve lost your period for a couple of months and a couple of months becomes a couple of years, and in my case, it was a total of three. And when you are not getting your period, you’re not gonna be able to have the necessary levels of estrogen to maintain strong bone health. And in my case, I broke five different bones.
The New York Times Magazine published a story about how Alberto was training me and nurturing my talent. We weren’t doing any of that. I felt so scared. I felt so alone. And I felt so trapped and I started to have suicidal thoughts. I started to cut myself. Some people saw me cutting myself and (voice cracking) nobody really did anything or said anything.
In 2015, I ran this race and I didn’t run super well. And afterwards there was a thunderstorm going on. Half the track was under one tent and Alberto yelled at me in front of everybody else at the meet. He told me that I had clearly gained five pounds before the race. It was also that night that I told Alberto and our sports psych that I was cutting myself and they pretty much told me that they just wanted to go to bed.
And I think for me that was my kick in the head where I was like, “This system is sick.” I think even for my parents in certain ways once I finally vocalized to them [what was going on], I mean they were horrified. They bought me the first plane ride home. They were like, get on that flight, get the hell out of there.
I wasn’t even trying to make the Olympics anymore. I was just trying to survive. So I made the painful choice and I quit the team.
Those reforms (Nike shutting down the NOP) are mostly a direct result of the doping scandal. They’re not acknowledging the fact that there is a systemic crisis in women’s sports and at Nike where young girls’ bodies are being ruined by an emotionally and physically abusive system. That’s what needs to change and here’s how we can do it.
First, Nike needs to change. In track and field, Nike is all-powerful. They control the top coaches, athletes, races, even the governing body. You can’t just fire a coach and eliminate a program and pretend the problem is solved. My worry is that Nike is merely going to rebrand the old program and put Alberto’s old assistant coaches in charge.
Secondly, we need more women in power. Part of me wonders if I had worked with more female psychologists, nutritionists and even coaches, where I’d be today. I got caught in a system designed by and for men which destroys the bodies of young girls. Rather than force young girls to fend for themselves, we have to protect them.
I genuinely do have hope for the sport and I plan to be running for many years to come and so part of the reason I’m doing this now is I want to end this chapter and I want to start a new one.