Nike's own employees marched on its headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, on Monday, Dec. 9: the day it reopened a building named after Alberto Salazar, former head of Nike's Oregon Project.
Despite record profits, Nike has had a rough time lately in the so-called culture wars. Reports in the press on its inequitable treatment of women, the resignation of 11 female executives, an acknowledged failure to promote women and minorities, and an announced redressing of unequal pay were followed in October by Salazar's four-year suspension from track and field in the U.S.
Then, on Nov. 7, the New York Times ran a story about Mary Cain, a 23-year-old middle-distance runner who used to train under Salazar in the now-defunct Oregon Project. It included a seven-minute documentary-style video, complete with a musical soundtrack, in which Cain alleges that she was “caught in a system designed by and for men which destroys the bodies of young girls.”
Salazar, she claims, “wanted to give me birth control pills and diuretics to lose weight, the latter of which isn't allowed in track and field.” She claims also to have developed relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S) syndrome, with its typical interruption of the menstrual cycle, and alleges that it was the cause of five bone breaks. The pressure to lose weight and its deleterious effect on her performance led to self-mutilation and thoughts of suicide. “My worry,” she goes on to say, “is that Nike's merely going to rebrand the old program and put Alberto's old assistant coaches in charge.”
Nike has since announced an investigation into Cain's allegations, but it has also said in a statement that Cain “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.” Shalane Flanagan, winner of the New York City Marathon, and Kara Goucher, the Olympic runner, have backed up Cain's allegations and criticized Nike. Goucher has tweeted: “I hope you [Nike] come to me, because I have stories to match all of Mary's claims and so much more.”
Nike has responded to the demonstration in a statement to Footwear News, which reads: “We respect and welcome employees' feedback on matters that are important to them.”