Mary Cain, a 25-year-old distance runner and former track star, filed a lawsuit suing Nike and disgraced coach Alberto Salazar for $20 million, citing emotional abuse and weight-shaming.
A record-holder at just 17 years old, she was signed in 2013 to Nike’s Oregon Project, run at the time by Alberto Salazar. She was the youngest track and field athlete to ever secure a sport on the World Championships team, where she was thought to have near-unlimited potential as a future running star.
According to the lawsuit, her career fizzled due to intense emotional abuse and weight-shaming from coach Alberto Salazar, which led to her becoming depressed, cutting herself, and developing an eating disorder. Nike was reportedly fully aware of Salazar’s behavior, Cain alleged, but failed to intervene.
Back in December, hundreds of Nike employees protested the company’s support of Alberto Salazar, when a newly renovated building was named after the track coach. Dozens of employees and athletes had come forward about gender discrimination at Nike, which led to massive firings and investigations, but Salazar remained untouched.
It took until September 2021 for Alberto Salazar to be banned from the sport for four years, but it only happened because of an international doping scandal.
According to Mary Cain, the troubling culture of emotional abuse Alberto Salazar left behind is still present at Nike, and the company has done nothing to stop it.
After the release of a New York Times Op-Ed written by Mary Cain, Nike announced an investigation into her disturbing allegations of abuse. Her latest lawsuit alleged that nothing productive came out of the investigation.
“We take the allegations extremely seriously,” Nike wrote at the time, despite describing in length that Mary had never raised these claims before. “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,” the statement concluded.
Back in March, a Nike executive resigned, but it was later revealed that her resignation was due to her teenage son’s illegal sneaker resale business.
“For many years, the only thing I wanted in the world was the approval of Alberto Salazar,” Mary Cain said. “Alberto was like a father to me, or even like a god.”
“I was the victim of an abusive system, an abusive man,” she revealed. “People should never have to fear coming forward.”
According to the lawsuit, “Salazar told her that she was too fat and that her breasts and bottom were too big,” forcing her to become obsessed with her weight. Salazar reportedly policed what she ate and how much, leading Mary to starve and steal granola bars from other teammates.
Alberto Salazar also allegedly, “prevented Cain from consulting with and relying on her parents, particularly her father, who is a doctor.”
Alberto Salazar has denied all claims against him, as well as his suspension as part of the doping scandal. “My foremost goal as a coach was to promote athletic performance in a manner that supported the good health and well-being of all my athletes,” he told Sports Illustrated.
“On occasion, I may have made comments that were callous or insensitive over the course of years of helping my athletes through hard training,” he said, however, “If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry. I do dispute, however, the notion that any athlete suffered any abuse or gender discrimination.”
Mary Cain’s lawyer, Kristen West McCall, said that “Nike’s job was to ensure that Salazar was not neglecting and abusing the athletes he coached,” and revealed that Mary had to break a signed NDA to come forward with her allegations after the company refused to act.
“Nike was letting Alberto weight-shame women, objectify their bodies, and ignore their health and wellbeing as part of its culture,” McCall explained. “This was a systemic and pervasive issue. And they did it for their own gratification and profit.”