Mary Cain and the Harsh Truth of Women in Sports

On November 7th, 2019, The New York Times released a video and article as a part of an opinion video series called Equal Play where they are “showcasing the insurgent athletes who are dragging women’s sports into the 21st century” (NYT). This video documented 17 year-old runner, Mary Cain, who was the youngest American Track and Field athlete to make a World Championship team. In 2013 Cain was signed onto the Nike Oregon Project which was the best track team in the world under the coaching of Alberto Salazar.

Cain found herself coached by an all male staff without any professional sports psychologists or nutritionists. Salazar and his staff became convinced that in order for Mary Cain to get better, she needed to get thinner. Salazar told her that she needed to maintain an exact weight of 114 pounds to be good. He weighed her in front of her team and publicly shamed her if she wasn’t meeting the weight requirement. Salazar and his team went as far as to give Cain diuretics and birth control to control weight, and it was at this point in her career Mary Cain had never run worse. “When young women are forced push themselves beyond what they’re capable of at their given age, they are at risk for RED-S Syndrome” (Sports Illustrated). RED-S Syndrome is something that can occur when athletes don’t eat an appropriate amount for the quantity of energy that they are burning. In women this “usually manifests as disordered eating, loss of menstrual periods and decreased bone mineral density” (UW Health). Cain lost her period for three years and broke five bones due to the low levels of estrogen from the lack of a period.

 Earlier in the year, a New York Times article was released saying that Mary Cain’s talents were being nurtured and trained with Salazar and his team. However, this could not have been further from the truth. Cain had given up on her dreams of going to the Olympics and she was solely focusing on surviving. Cain started to have suicidal thoughts and when this was told to Salazar and his team, they dismissed her feelings. In 2016, Cain quit the Nike Oregon Project and she is now coming out with her story. Cain states that Nike “Is not acknowledging the fact that there is a systemic crisis in women’s sports and Nike in which young girl’s bodies are being ruined by an emotionally and physically abusive system.”  Cain also states that she was caught in a system that was designed for and created by men. Cain wonders what her career would have looked like if she was trained and supported by other women in power. Unfortunately, Cain’s story is a common one and athletes Gracie Gold and Kara Goucher also reported a similar experience. By speaking out they are making sure that other women in sports will not have the same experience. 

 

Sources: 

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/07/opinion/nike-running-mary-cain.html

https://www.uwhealth.org/health-wellness/red-s-syndrome-what-atheletes-need-to-know/51699

https://www.si.com/track-and-field/video/2019/11/13/mary-cain-speaks-out-nike-oregon-project