By Ken Reed

Despite the fact long-time track coach Alberto Salazar was banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for encouraging his athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs. And despite the fact that former Nike Oregon Project runners — including Mary Cain and Amy Yoder Begley — have accused Salazar of abusive coaching techniques, including body-shaming them, Nike executives decided it was okay to reopen a renovated building, named after Salazar, and put images of Salazar all over the inside of the building’s walls.

That decision triggered a protest of the company’s treatment of women from at least 400 Nike employees this past week. The employees marched around Lake Nike, carrying signs and occasionally chanting for better treatment of women. One sign read: “Just Do Better.”

The Nike Global Communications department warned the protesters that they were not permitted to speak with the news media regarding any Nike-related matter. If that company policy was breached it could result in being fired. Two employees told a reporter that Nike actively attempts to stifle dissent.

Nike’s decision regarding the naming of the Salazar building, and the resultant protest, comes a few weeks after former professional runner Lauren Fleshman wrote a powerful op-ed in the New York Times about the need to reform the coaching system in this country for women. As Fleshman points out, the current system is built by and for men.

“We currently don’t have a sports system built for girls. If we did, it would look very different — and it would benefit everyone,” wrote Fleshman.

According to Fleshman, the abuse that athletes like Mary Cain were subjected to at Nike regarding body shape and size have been justified and allowed to continue for decades.

“It is still a very common practice for coaches to directly create an eating-disorder culture in the name of performance by focusing on weight and appearance,” wrote Fleshman.

Girls develop differently than boys. Males have a more linear performance curve. But the natural improvement curve of girls and young women often includes a performance dip, or plateau, as the body adjusts to the changes of adolescence. After the dip, women are often rewarded with steadier improvement through their mid-20s and 30s.

Too many track and distance running coaches don’t know that, or simply don’t care. Fleshman writes:

“Despite decades spent submerging athletes in environments of negative body image and eating-disorder culture and contributing to a mental health crisis, very few coaches and administrators have been held to account. … If coaches are found to create or contribute to a culture of negative body image or eating disorders, they are committing abuse, and they should be fired.”

And they certainly shouldn’t be glorified by having their names placed on buildings on Nike’s campus.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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