Cain says that her former coach was emotionally abusive, and blames Nike for not taking any disciplinary action.
Former distance runner Mary Cain has filed a $20 million lawsuit against Nike and her former coach, Alberto Salazar.
According to The Oregonian, Cain—a “promising” runner whose career fizzled after spending four years with the Nike Oregon Project—had earlier accused Salazar of emotionally abusing her when she first joined the team.
Cain’s lawsuit, adds OregonLive.com, posits Salazar as an enraged “control freak” who obsessed about Cain’s weight and publicly humiliated her for it.
“Salazar told her that she was too fat and that her breasts and bottom were too big,” the lawsuit states.
Salazar reportedly went so far as to limit her caloric intake, seizing food from her and forcing her to go hungry.
Salazar’s alleged abused took a toll on Cain’s mental and physical health. However, Cain says that Nike did not intervene, even after she complained about the coach’s misconduct.
When Cain told her parents, Salazar tried to limit her interactions with them.
“He prevented Cain from consulting with and relying on her parents, particularly her father, who is a doctor,” attorney Kristen West McCall said, as reported by The Oregonian.
“Companies are responsible for the behavior of their managers,” she said. “Nike’s job was to ensure that Salazar was not neglecting and abusing the athletes he coached.”
McCall further suggested that Salazar’s abused was either facilitated or encouraged by Nike’s corporate culture and drive for profits.
“Nike was letting Alberto weight-shame women, objectify their bodies, and ignore their health and wellbeing as part of its culture,” McCall said. “This was a systemic and pervasive issue. And they did it for their own gratification and profit.”
Salazar, adds OregonLive.com, has long told a different story—responding to a New York Times piece on Cain, published in 2019, Salazar said Cain’s parents were involved in her training and helped select medications and supplements.
“Mary at times struggled to find and maintain her ideal performance and training weight,” Salazar wrote.
Salazar later admitted to Sports Illustrated that he may have, had times, made comments which were “callous or insensitive.”
“If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry,” he wrote. “I do dispute, however, the notion that any athlete suffered any abuse or gender discrimination while running for the [Nike] Oregon Project.”
The Nike Oregon Project, notes NBC News, was disbanded in 2019 after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused Salazar of three violations; he was banned from distance running for four years.
Earlier this year, Salazar received another, lifetime ban from the U.S. Center for SafeSport for sexual and emotional misconduct.