(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Former elite runner Mary Cain, who trained with Nike’s now disbanded Oregon project from 2013 to 2017, recently made allegations in an op-ed for The New York Times of mental and physical abuse that she experienced during her time at the training group.
Cain, 23, said coaches, lead by head coach Alberto Salazar, convinced her that she had to keep losing weight, ridiculed her body and weight in front of her teammates and other athletes at competition and ignored her when she expressed feelings of depression and self-harm.
Cain said lost her period for three years and broke five bones, because of her disordered eating due to Salazar’s extreme training methods and body shaming.
Cain said felt that she could come forward with her experiences after the Oregon Project was dismantled in October over doping allegations.
Eight other athletes who had trained with the Oregon Project have since shared similar negative experiences dating back to 2008.
Salazar denies the allegations and Nike has said they plan to conduct an investigation regarding the claims, but it hasn’t yet happened.
In an interview with The New York Times, Cain said this abuse is part of a larger issue in sports, where women’s bodies are expected to meet standards set by how men’s bodies develop and women are pressured to be thinner than what is healthy.
“You see women being judged more on their physical appearance that men are judged on their physical appearance, and because of that, you see women take that pressure on themselves, even if coaches, or parents, or whoever are not pushing it,” said Dr. David Schary, sports psychology professor at Winthrop University and consultant for Winthrop Athletics.
The double standards for men’s and women’s bodies in sports are a reflection of the double standards placed on bodies in society, according to Schary, who was a guest on the Palmetto Report.
“Sports are a reflection of the culture at large,” said Schary, “so you can’t fix sports without talking about these bigger cultural values and expectations.”
Schary said the unhealthy body standards in sports could possibly be helped if there were more women in leadership roles who will be more interested in making decisions that benefit women and giving female athletes more role models.
“With an organization as big as Nike, they really need to have more women that are coaches, that have these roles that they are making decisions on what’s going on, on those teams,” said Schary.