Mary Cain, a middle-distance runner, reports that her male coaches' constant demands she get “thinner, and thinner, and thinner” hurt her health and career. The crux of the problem: she joined a program operated by Nike, whose priority is selling shoes, not training athletes.
The New York Times:
The problem is so widespread it affected the only other female athlete featured in the last Nike video ad Cain appeared in, the figure skater Gracie Gold. When the ad came out in 2014, like Cain, Gold was a prodigy considered talented enough to win a gold medal at the next Olympics. And, like Cain, Gold got caught in a system where she was compelled to become thinner and thinner. She developed disordered eating to the point of imagining her own death.
“America loves a good child prodigy story, and business is ready and waiting to exploit that story, especially when it comes to girls,” said Lauren Fleshman, who ran for Nike until 2012. “When you have these kinds of good girls, girls who are good at following directions to the point of excelling, you’ll find a system that’s happy to take them. And it’s rife with abuse.”
It's a big warning to young athletes: Nike doesn't need all of its mannequins to be winners. The head coach, Alberto Salazar, would weigh her in front of her teammates and humiliate her if she failed to reach his arbitrary targets.
Consider how even after years of constant scandals, this sort of abuse still thrives at the place two opposed goals meet. An athletic requirement (reasonable weight management) justifies a marketing demand (“thinner, and thinner, and thinner”) that undermines and even destroys the athlete.
And here's what Nike got out of it: two print ads, as far as I can find in 2019, and two TV spots it has already removed from YouTube.
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