Alleged psychological abuse: Ex-runner sued Nike for 20 million

The sporting goods manufacturer Nike should pay. For years of psychological and emotional abuse. The company did not run it itself, but accepted it, according to ex-runner Mary Cain. The coach Alberto Salazar, who has already been banned for life, has also been charged.

The charge: psychological and emotional abuse. The accused: the former trainer Alberto Salazar and the sporting goods manufacturer Nike. The plaintiff: Mary Cain, a former American top runner, then the figurehead of US athletics. The demand: $ 20 million. A lawsuit in the US is attracting a lot of attention. The now 25-year-old Cain states in the complaint according to “The Oregonian” that Nike knew about the years of psychological and emotional abuse in the athletics program Oregon Project of the sporting goods manufacturer and did not intervene.

Cain was accepted into the Nike Oregon Project as a child prodigy in 2013, when she was 16 years old. As early as 2019, she said in the “New York Times” that she had been repeatedly urged by Salazar to lose weight. She lost her period due to an energy deficiency syndrome and suffered a total of five broken bones. Her career failed because of it and she had suicidal thoughts. “I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best athlete of all time. Instead, I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and supported by Nike,” Cain told the New York Times.

In the lawsuit now filed, Cain claims, according to The Oregonian, that Salazar forced her to stand on the scales while criticizing her weight. “Salazar told her that she was too fat and that her breasts and bottom were too big,” the complaint said. The 25-year-old claims that the trainer monitored her food intake.

“Health and Wellbeing Ignored”

Salazar would have prevented Cain from accepting help from her parents. Kristen West McCall, a Cain attorney, told The Oregonian: “He prevented Cain from consulting and relying on her parents, especially her father, who is a doctor.” During the entire time, Nike has done nothing to prevent this abuse, McCall said. “Nike allowed Alberto to practice weight shame in women, turning their bodies into objects, and ignoring their health and wellbeing,” she said. “This was a systematic and pervasive problem. They did it for their own satisfaction and profit.”

Nike said the company is not addressing any ongoing litigation. Salazar had already denied the allegations in 2019. He told The Oregonian at the time that he had never encouraged female athletes to be unhealthy, let alone body shaming. However, Cain wasn’t the only one who had made allegations against him. Other top runners such as Kara Goucher and Amy Yoder Begley had also reported the emotional and physical abuse. They also got support from Salazar’s assistant at the time, Steve Magness. He witnessed what was described and was even asked to treat the athletes in this way. “I was once told to get an athlete to lose weight,” he said in 2019. “When I came up with data on her already low body fat percentage, I was told, ‘I don’t care what science says, I know what I see with my eyes. Your butt is too big. ‘”

Salazar was banned for four years in 2019 for allegedly dealing in doping substances, and in September of this year his ban was extended to life. “No abuse of any kind will ever be tolerated in our sport, and we will put the emotional and physical security of athletes above all else,” said the US Athletics Federation. The Nike Oregon project ended in October 2019. To this day, there is a running training group in Oregon led by a former assistant to Salazar. Pete Julian trains the German top runner Konstanze Klosterhalfen and the Dutch Olympic champion Sifan Hassan there.

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