A former Nike runner is taking legal action against alleged abuse during her time as an athlete at the Swoosh.
Mary Cain, a long-distance runner and former Nike Oregon project athlete, filed a $20 million lawsuit late Monday against Nike Inc. and former Nike running coach Alberto Salazar. In the suit, Cain alleges that during her four years as a Nike runner, she endured emotional, verbal, and physical abuse at the hands of Salazar.
Cain brought Salazar’s alleged misconduct to light in a 2019 New York Times op-ed video, in which she claimed that Salazar demanded excessive weight loss to the point where she lost her period, broke several bones, and suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. Cain’s Nike teammates confirmed allegations made against Salazar.
Nike’s Oregon Project, a program for top tier distance runners, was founded by Salazar and Nike in 2001. Cain joined in 2012 while in her freshman year at the University of Portland and left in 2016. In October of 2019, Nike said it would “wind down” the Oregon Project.
“I ran terrible during this time. It 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 was earlier that day,” Cain said in the video of her time with the Oregon Project. “I felt so scared. And I felt so trapped. And I started to have suicidal thoughts. I started cutting myself.”
The lawsuit, filed in a Multnomah County Circuit Court, centers on situations Cain discussed in the video. The complaint alleges that Salazar made frequent comments about Cain’s weight and appearance, telling her that “she was too fat and that her breasts and bottom were too big.” The complaint also highlights instances where Salazar allegedly controlled what food Cain ate on trips and during training events, to the point where she said she stole nutrition bars to eat in the bathroom. Nike’s sports psychology consultant Darren Treasure was also named in the lawsuit as having known about Cain’s struggling but neglecting to do anything to help her.
Cain is suing Salazar and Nike and alleging fraud, negligence, personal injuries, intentional infliction of emotional distress and sex discrimination.
“Nike was letting Alberto weight-shame women, objectify their bodies, and ignore their health and wellbeing on a regular basis, as part of its culture,” said Kristen West McCall, a Portland, Ore. lawyer representing Cain. “This was a systemic and pervasive issue. And they did it for their own gratification and profit.”
According to McCall, Nike’s culture promoted a “hostile work environment” that led to “harassment on the basis of gender.”
Nike said it does not comment on ongoing litigation but stated that “Nike is committed to positively affecting the future of sport for women and girls and we are doing more in this space than ever before.”