By: Luke Y.
A young female athlete has been subject to career-ruining mental abuse that leads to her physical health being altered as well. Mary Cain, a bright track athlete that was expected to be the fastest girl in America, joined coach Alberto Salazar’s running team sponsored by Nike called the “Oregon Project” after being offered a spot by Salazar. This was a dream come true for Cain. All her career, she was striving to be the best in her game, and all her hard work paid off. This opportunity was just what Mary needed to propel her to the next level. Instead, the program made Cain get “thinner and thinner”. In the article by the New York Times titled “I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike”, the author states, “After months of dieting and frustration, Cain found herself choosing between training with the best team in the world, or potentially developing osteoporosis or even infertility. She lost her period for three years and broke five bones. She went from being a once-in-a-generation Olympic hopeful to having suicidal thoughts” (Cain 2019). The fact that this program treats their female athletes’ health like they are male athletes is completely wrong. It shows that the coaches obviously don’t understand what these women have to go through and this ends up with the deterioration of their physical health.
Cain isn’t the only athlete affected by this program’s way of training. An athlete named Kara Goucher also trained alongside Salazar’s team until 2011. The article mentions these comments from her, “When you’re training in a program like this, you’re constantly reminded how lucky you are to be there, how anyone would want to be there, and it’s this weird feeling of, ‘Well, then, I can’t leave it. Who am I without it?’” (Cain 2019). This shows how Mary is not alone in her struggles with the team. The program is so widely known that these athletes believe it’s the best thing they can do for their careers. They get brainwashed into a mindset that makes them think that they are lucky and they could never leave it. This honestly sickens me. It’s like the coaches are just pure evil in a way. They are making their athletes lose their values and they ignore them when they have suicidal thoughts, or they embarrass them in front of all their teammates. Many other coaches have done the same thing and people have witnessed these types of actions occur all the time that it’s become a stigma in the sports industry.
Many female athletes have spoken out against Nike and their skills to hire good coaches or giving women maternity protections. Athletes such as Alysia Montaño or Allyson Felix have stated how Nike would cut their pay if they wanted to start a family. That if they were out of their prime, they couldn’t sponsor them, and they’d have to train vigorously after their pregnancy to get back into their job. The article gives this statement from Nike, “These are deeply troubling allegations which have not been raised by Mary or her parents before. 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. We take the allegations extremely seriously and will launch an immediate investigation to hear from former Oregon Project athletes. 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” (Cain 2019). Now this statement really set an alarm off in my brain that Nike is doing wrong. What do you expect if an athlete is going through intense mental illness and constantly worrying about their health? Mary didn’t know at the time that she was doing something wrong. She thought this training was right and was brainwashed by the team’s coaches. She went back to the program because she still thought of Alberto as a god and she wanted approval from him like anyone would if someone emotionally broke us down. They say these allegations are inconsistent with their values and that they put their athletes in the center of things, but these types of situations have happened before like when females tried to have maternity protections. They obviously haven’t cared about their athletes numerous times and they really have to have a big change in their treatment of their athletes permanently.
Something really has to change in Nike’s attitude towards the well-being of their female athletes. Just think of all the countless dreams crushed from coaches of these types of programs. All the potential just thrown away is very disheartening, and makes me very sympathetic towards the athletes that had to deal with these issues. I’m glad that athletes like Mary or Kara are finally speaking out and addressing the problems to hopefully end this chain of horrible mental abuse towards athletes. These young athletes are our future, so we have to protect their well-being to make sure they can succeed in life. I want all of you out there to spread the message to others that this type of treatment of athletes is wrong and hopefully join me and many others that are trying to change this problem in the sports industry. If you are a victim of this type of training and mental abuse, you need to know that you can talk to someone. Your mental health should be put first and if your coaches don’t understand that, you have to make sure you leave this situation immediately or else your career may be devastated as well.