On Monday, The Oregonian reported that former Nike Oregon Project athlete, Mary Cain, has reportedly filed a $20 million lawsuit against Nike and her former coach, Alberto Salazar, over alleged abuse. Cain is accusing Salazar of publicly shaming her over her weight, leading her to depression, an eating disorder and self-harm.
In 2019, The New York Times published a shocking story and video in which a 16-year-old Cain described the physical, mental and emotional abuse she received from Salazar during her time as his athlete at the Nike Oregon Distance Project. Once the most promising high school track athlete in the United States, Cain says her experience there caused her to have depression, an eating disorder, generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome. During that time she began cutting herself.
The lawsuit specifically highlights Salazar’s alleged obsession with Cain’s weight, and the now 25-year-old says in the suit that on several occasions, Salazar forced her onto a scale in front of others and publically shamed her about her weight, telling her she was too fat and her breasts and bottom were too big.
The lawsuit also calls out the NOP’s sports psychology consultant, Darren Treasure, alleging he knew about the abuse and about Cain’s mental and emotional state but did nothing about it. It also accused him of “sometimes [sharing] intimate and confidential information … with Salazar.”
Cain is suing Nike as well for failing to intervene. Kristen West McCall, a Portland lawyer representing Cain, argues in the suit that it was Nike’s job to ensure that Salazar was not neglecting and abusing the athletes he coached. “Nike was letting Alberto weight-shame women, objectify their bodies and ignore their health and wellbeing as part of its culture,” she says. “This was a systemic and pervasive issue. And they did it for their own gratification and profit.”
The NOP was disbanded in 2019 after Salazar was given a four-year coaching ban by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for three counts of violating anti-doping regulations. Salazar appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) earlier this year and his ban was reduced from four to two years. Salazar has continued to deny the allegations against him, and in a 2019 statement given to Sports Illustrated, he said his primary goal was to promote athletic performance in his athletes while maintaining their health and well-being. “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. “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 while running for the Oregon Project.”
In July of this year, Salazar received a lifetime ban from the U.S. Center for SafeSport for sexual and emotional misconduct. He has coached several of the world’s top athletes, including Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, who won gold and silver in the 10,000m at the 2016 Olympics, and Sifan Hassan, who recently won two golds and one bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.