Nov. 9 (UPI) — Nike announced Friday it’s launching an investigation into allegations its elite running organization, the Oregon Project, systemically emotionally and physically abused at least one athlete.
The probe comes a day after record-breaking track and field athlete Mary Cain published an op-ed in The New York Times detailing ways in which she said the system set up by coach Alberto Salazar body shamed her and left her feeling suicidal. She joined the Oregon Project when she was 17 years old with the goal of making the U.S. Olympic team, but says Salazar fixated on her weight and encouraged her to take supplements and birth control pills to keep herself at an “arbitrary” 114 pounds.
The result, she said, was that she completely lost her period for three years. That loss of estrogen weakened her bones and she ended up breaking five bones.
Cain said she left the team in 2015 after she said Salazar ignored her when she told him she had mental health problems and was cutting herself. She returned to her home state of New York but continued to train as a member of the Oregon Project during the 2016 Olympic trials. She attempted to rejoin the team in April.
Cain shared her experience with the Oregon Project in a video op-ed published by The New York Times on Thursday. On Friday, Nike responded, saying the “allegations are completely inconsistent with our values.”
“These are deeply troubling allegations which have not been raised by Mary or her parents before,” a Nike spokesperson said in a statement. “Mary was seeking to rejoin the Oregon Project and Alberto’s team as recently as April of this year and had not raised these concerns as part of that process.”
Salazar also released a statement largely denying Cain’s allegations, but confirmed her weight was a focus of concern.
“Mary at times struggled to find and maintain her ideal performance and training weight,” he said.
But, he said, Cain’s father, a medical doctor, approved any medications or supplements she took.
“To be clear, I never encouraged her, or worse yet, shamed her, to maintain an unhealthy weight,” Salazar said.
Last month, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banned Salazar and Nike consultant Jeffrey Brown from competition for four years for unlawful doping.
The USADA said the pair orchestrated and facilitated “prohibited doping conduct while acting, respectively, as head coach of the Nike Oregon Project and as a paid consultant for the NOP on performance enhancement and as physician for numerous athletes in the NOP.”
Nike later shuttered the Oregon Project and Nike CEO Mark Parker announced plans to step down in 2020.