Nike Sends A False Message Of Promoting Gender Equality

Molly Kennedy, Sports Editor

Air Force 1 shoes, Air Max, sweatshirts, sweatpants, even flip flops, Nike’s signature swoosh can be found in almost every teenager’s closet. Many kids grow up playing sports and wearing Nike, a brand that promotes athleticism and hard work. Nike for years has been promoting the powerful message of female equality and advertising strong and powerful female athletes. Although Nike promotes female equality through advertisements and ads, their discriminatory actions speak louder.

Nike commercials over recent years have promoted female empowerment, and the idea that female athletes are strong, which drove young girls, and women to buy their products and promote female empowerment. More recently in an op-ed done by The New York Times, Mary Cain, a female professional runner came out about the abuse she experienced in her training club, Nike Oregon Project. The Nike Oregon Project is an elite training club of long-distance runners, that train for world championships and the Olympics. At age 17, Cain became the youngest American Track and Field athlete to make the World Championship team. In 2013, when Cain first joined the Nike Oregon Project, “an all-male Nike staff became convinced that for me to get better, I had to become thinner and thinner and thinner,” said Mary Cain in a video produced by The New York Times in November of 2019. Due to Cain not eating enough her training suffered, along with her races. “He would usually weigh me in front of my teammates and publicly shame me if I wasn’t hitting weight,” said Mary Cain while referring to her coach. Due to Cain pushing herself too much in practice she developed R.E.D. syndrome, which caused her to not menstruate for three years which lead to her breaking five bones because her body was not producing enough calcium. Cain did not come out regarding the abusive training she endured along with the development of depression, suicidal thoughts, and even self-harming herself until three years after she left the Nike Oregon Project. Before she left Cain claimed, “I wasn’t even trying to make the Olympics anymore I was trying to survive.” After being charged for a doping scandal Salazar was banned from track and field for four years shortly before Cain announced allegations of abuse. Other female athletes came out with similar stories as Cain’s of intense diets, and weigh-ins and other forms of physical and mental abuse by Salazer. 

On December 9th, two days after Cain’s allegations, hundreds of Nike employees protested the company for backing up Alberto Salazer. Nike soon broke their silence about two days after Cain’s allegations and their employees protesting. They announced they would investigate Cain’s allegations, however, Salazar denied all allegations being made against him. As a Nike endorsed the project, Nike should take responsibilities for their coaching staff and ensure a safer environment for future runners. “I got caught in a system designed by and for men which destroys the bodies of young girls,” said Mary Cain. 

In other cases, Nike has taken away the salary of their sponsored pregnant athletes. According to Statistica, in 2019 Nike was valued at $32.4 billion, therefore the idea that they could not afford to provide their pregnant female athletes with a salary is unreal. In 2010, Olympian Kara Goucher got pregnant and soon learned that Nike would discontinue paying her until she started racing again. She was then scheduled to run a half marathon three months after giving birth, due to her early comeback after birth she experienced hip injuries. Her son also became very ill soon after he was born, and she was still forced to continue her training. In another case, Olympian and mother of two, Alysia Montano raced while 8 months pregnant in order to combat the idea pregnant women can’t exercise. After Montano told her sponsor Nike she wanted to continue her career and have a baby, Nike responded with, “Simple, we’ll just pause your contract and stop paying you,” along with her sponsors leaving “the US Olympic committee strips us of our health insurance if we do not stay at the top of our game during our pregnancy,” claimed Montano. In 2018, Allyson Felix, a 9-time Olympic medalist, and an 11-time world champion was offered a 70% pay reduction after giving birth to her daughter. This was because she would not be at the top of her performance after giving birth. “Putting really strict requirements on our returning to competition takes away from our mothering, it can jeopardize our health,” said Felix in an interview with The New York Times. All these women and more have been speaking out to help future generations of female athletes. 

For a brand that preaches female equality in athletics, it is sad knowing they refuse to insure pregnant women. Congress, Nike workers, the public, and female athletes who experienced this first hand all came out against Nike to support change. On August 12th, 2019, Nike designed a new contract that provides pregnant athletes 18 months of pay around pregnancy. Why does it require so many people’s attention in order to create change? 

There are deep underlying issues in how many people are able to empathize with athletes like Mary Cain. In athletics, there is a distinction between abuse and hard work, and Nike is aware of who they hire, and it was seen in Mary Cain’s performances after she joined Oregon Project there was an underlying issue. 

Using female athletes for publicity and telling girls to “Dream Crazier” is a misguiding slogan that Nike holds. Companies are not expected to be perfect, however, do not promote female justice if you are not willing to pay pregnant women, or take responsibility for multiple allegations by girls in a project endorsed by your company.