Former Nike-Backed Track Coach Alberto Salazar Permanently Barred for Misconduct

Alberto Salazar, the once-celebrated coach who led Nike’s Oregon Project for long-distance running until 2019, was officially banned from the sport on Wednesday by the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

The decision makes Salazar permanently ineligible from participating in the sport under any sport national governing body. It upholds an initial ruling announced in July, which Salazar appealed.

The ruling, which initially cited sexual and emotional misconduct, follows a 2019 New York Times op-ed video from former teen track star Mary Cain. She alleged that Salazar publicly shamed her for not meeting weight targets and demanded weight loss to the point that she missed periods, broke five bones and suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. Several of Cain’s Nike teammates came forward to back up her experiences, describing an environment of psychological and verbal abuse.

In October, Cain filed a $20 million lawsuit against Nike Inc. and Salazar. In the suit, Cain alleged that during her four years as a Nike runner, she endured emotional, verbal, and physical abuse at the hands of Salazar. In the suit, Cain alleges fraud, negligence, personal injuries, intentional infliction of emotional distress and sex discrimination.

Salazar appealed SafeSport’s initial July ruling. Now that the ruling is official, the SafeSport database only lists sexual misconduct, not emotional misconduct, as the reason for the ban. Salazar has previously denied any allegations of abuse or weight shaming, while apologizing for potentially hurtful comments.

“On occasion, I may have made comments that were callous or insensitive over the course of years of helping my athletes through hard training,” Salazar wrote in a 2019 statement. “If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry.”

Separately, in 2019, the coach was suspended from the sport for four years by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association, which found that he had trafficked testosterone, tampered or attempted to tamper with the doping control process and administered a banned IV infusion. In March, he appealed that suspension with the independent Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, though the court has yet to issue a ruling.

Nike wound down the Oregon Project over two years ago following the suspension and terminated its contract with Salazar. “In August 2021, we changed the Alberto Salazar building name to Next% following SafeSport’s decision to permanently ban Alberto from coaching,” Nike told FN in a statement.

Previously, former Nike CEO Mark Parker said the brand would support the coach through his appeal. “This situation, along with ongoing unsubstantiated assertions, is a distraction for many of the athletes and is compromising their ability to focus on their training and competition needs,” Parker wrote in a memo, calling the suspension “wrong” “for someone who acted in good faith.”

In a leaked October 2019 memo, Parker strongly refuted any allegations of orchestrated doping, writing that “I would never condone cheating of any kind in sport or otherwise and I expect you [Nike employees] wouldn’t either.”

Parker resigned from his role later that month. At the time, the brand was also embroiled in several controversies about its treatment of female employees and athletes, and of minority team members, which new leadership has since made significant strides to address through diversity and inclusion initiatives.

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