Mary Cain – Nike’s Oregon Project Scandal

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Mary Cain and the Oregon Project Catastrophe

If you haven’t already heard of the Mary Cain/Nike scandal we’ll give you a short synopsis: 

23 year old pro runner Mary Cain, came out about the abuse she faced under one of Nike’s most elite and esteemed running programs, the Oregon Project. Cain moved to Oregon in 2013 to train with head coach of Nike’s Oregon Project, Alberto Salazar where she admits to being “emotionally and physically abused”. Several other female athletes have come out supporting Cain’s claims against her treatment saying they either watched it occur or experienced it themselves. A month before Cain came out with the allegations against Salazar, the Oregon Project was shut down after Salazar faced a four year ban. Salazar faced this ban because an “independent arbitration panel found that Salazar helped traffic testosterone, a banned substance, and tampered with evidence”. When Cain came out about her abuse, she explained how under Salazars methods “she broke five bones, missed her period for three years and had suicidal thoughts due to disordered eating she developed”. Cain’s allegations also included her admitting she told Salazar and the team’s sports psychologist that she was cutting herself and they brushed her off. Salazar denied the allegations when Cain’s story was released in the New York Times on November 7th, although on November 12th Salazar issued an apology statement. The statement which seemed quite unapoloegitic stated that he apologized for the  “callous or insensitive over the course of years of helping my athletes through hard training” and  “that’s part of elite sport“.

Nike is undeniably the market leader of sneaker sales in the world, having a revenue of “$24.2 billion in 2018“. Nike’s main demographic for shoe sales is made up of “18- to 34-year-olds” which represent “43 percent of Nike’s customers“. This means that Millennials and Genz consumers make up a large portion of Nike’s footwear sales. Studies recently have shown that “Millennial and GenZ consumers increasingly care about the ethics of brands they select”, meaning that this scandal could greatly affect Nike’s reputation and overall sales. Cain mentioned in her NYT video that she is afraid of Nike sweeping the problem under the rug by rebranding the Oregon Project and having Salazar’s old associates coach the program. We will be curious to see how Nike responds in the long term to this problem and how they plan on fixing it for future female athletes.

While not all of us will have the chance to train with the most elite athletes and coaches in the world, there still should be ways to prevent this type of abuse in your environment. One of the ways Cain explained she could have trained in a safer environment, is if there were more women in power during her time in the Oregon Project. This can be applicable in all environments, in the office, on the field and in schools, since having women in power benefits other women entirely. In our office specifically, our demographic is made up of 60% womenCreating opportunities for women discuss important issues is also important, such as having a female psychologist or therapist available to speak with. Another option would be creating an internal committee for women to share their thoughts and opinions on issues in the environment they are in. It is proven that “a diverse and inclusive workplace that includes more women in leadership roles is not only safer, but it also leads to greater productivity and profitability”Creating a safe space for women to talk amongst themselves or one-on-one can offer opportunities for women to speak up and hopefully prevent issues similar to the ones Cain faced. 

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