Bearing signs such as “Do The Right Thing” and “Nike Is A Woman,” hundreds of Nike employees protested the reopening of a building on its Beaverton, Oregon campus yesterday that is named after Alberto Salazar, the track coach who ran the defunct Nike Oregon Project. Salazar was recently hit with a four-year ban from the sport for doping violations, and several female athletes have accused him of body shaming and fostering an abusive training system.
“At least 400 employees this morning staged a protest of the company's treatment of women. The picket was quiet and orderly. But it marks a watershed moment at Oregon's flagship company, where internal dissent is nearly unheard of,” writes Willamette Week’s Sophie Peel in breaking the story.
“A woman in a camouflage beanie started handing out two flyers prior to the walk: One read, in part, ‘No employee is permitted to speak with the news media on an Nike-related matter, on any on- or off-the record, without prior approval from Nike Global Communications.’ It warned that any ‘breach in the communications policy, including unauthorized information that is "leaked” to the media,’ could result in being fired,’” Peel continues.
“The other flyer she distributed branded the walk as a ‘celebration’ of women rather than a protest: ‘Thank you for walking with us to celebrate what women bring to sport and to champion equality,’ it read.”
“Several senior executives joined the employees and engaged them in a dialogue, said people familiar with the event,” Khadeeja Safdar writes for The Wall Street Journal. “‘We respect and welcome employees’ feedback on matters that are important to them,' a Nike spokesman said. ‘The flier prepared by some employees was not officially distributed by Nike.’”
Nike has been under increasing scrutiny its treatment of women employees for more than a year. It launched an investigation in March 2018 that resulted in at least 11 senior managers departing.
Then, “in October , The New York Times published a video op-ed featuring former high school track phenom Mary Cain, who claimed she suffered mental and physical abuse under the supervision of disgraced star coach Salazar as a member of Nike’s Oregon Project,” writes Ben Pickman for Sports Illustrated.
“Amid the fallout from Cain’s comments, Sports Illustrated contacted nine former Nike Oregon Project members, including Cain, about the culture under Salazar, and their accounts, extending back to 2008, validate her claims and paint a picture of a toxic culture where female athletes’ bodies were fair game to be demeaned publicly.
“Nevertheless, Nike has continued on with its renovations in the office named after Salazar. According to Willamette Week, the interior of the newly renovated building is ‘plastered with images’ of the star coach.” Pickman continues.
“A reporter for The Oregonian/OregonLive was at the site Monday morning. But the company refused to allow him to watch the demonstration. A Nike communications staffer escorted him off company property,” Jeff Manning writes for The Oregonian/OregonLive.
“The exact sentiments of the demonstrators were not exactly clear. It appeared they were driven by the Cain controversy and were urging Nike to rethink the way it treats women. In recent weeks, other women who formerly ran professionally at Nike echoed Cain’s allegations that they too were ‘fat-shamed’ or otherwise criticized for their weight or other issues,” Manning adds.
“At Nike, having a building named in one’s honor is among the company’s highest and most lasting tributes. The Salazar building, one of the company’s earliest such buildings, is tucked between those named for John McEnroe, the tennis player, and Dan Fouts, the retired N.F.L. quarterback,” write Kevin Draper and Julie Creswell for The New York Times.
But this is not the first time the company's choices have proven troublesome.
“In 2012, Nike changed the names of the Joe Paterno Child Development Center -- named for the longtime Penn State coach -- in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, and the Lance Armstrong Fitness Center, after the United States Anti-Doping Agency accused Armstrong, the champion cyclist, of using performance enhancing drugs,” Draper and Creswell continue.
“Nike has defended Mr. Salazar, himself a former elite runner and a Boston and New York City marathon champion. He is a close friend of Nike’s co-founder, Phil Knight, both of whom are alumni of the track-and-field program at the University of Oregon. The company has said it is conducting an investigation into Mr. Salazar’s treatment of athletes,” the WSJ’s Safdar reports.
Cain yesterday tweeted her support of the protest along with a picture from the Willamette Week story.
“If @nike genuinely wants change, they must allow a third party to run their investigation. Let their employees and community talk freely. Stop the intimidation…,” she writes.