Nike campaign affects athletes and a healthy body image

By Jake DiPaola

Elm Staff Writer

Back in 2013, 17-year-old Mary Cain was a phenomenal track and field athlete, breaking records in the junior women’s league for the 1500m and a near world record for the indoor mile, missing the mark by 0.01 seconds, according to Bring Back the Mile. Cain appeared to be one of the greatest female track athletes of the generation.

When Cain signed a contract with Nike in 2013, she did not realize this sports superpower would lead her to ruin just like so many other athletes before her.

Many athletes have a strict training regimen to stay in shape. However, after signing on with Nike, Cain fell from her ranks. Nike has promoted unethical treatment of their athletes in order to display an unsustainable body image. Athletes are practically starved and pushed to accept drugs to attain the perfect body Nike has in mind, destroying their body in the process, and ending their careers as athletes.

According to The New York Times, Cain was given small, meager meals and a strict diet to promote weight loss. She was not allowed to deviate from this even when she noticed she felt weaker and issues started arising. Cain had to nourish herself in silence and secrecy so that her coaches could not hear the wrappers of the energy bars she was trying to eat just so she could have the energy she needed.

In an interview with The New York Times, Kara Goucher, spoke once about a similar experience as an athlete like Cain.

“When you’re training in a program like this, you’re constantly reminded how lucky you are to be there, how anyone would want to be there, and it’s this weird feeling of, ‘Well, then, I can’t leave it. Who am I without it?’” Goucher said. “When someone proposes something you don’t want to do, whether it’s weight loss or drugs, you wonder, ‘Is this what it takes?’”

An athlete’s career is short lived, which is one of the reasons as to why sports players are paid so much. Most athletes have a career that lasts four to seven years, and with such a short time in the spotlight, people get desperate to seize as many opportunities as they can; just like Goucher, and just like Cain.

Goucher and Cain were both coached under Alberto Salazar who runs Nike’s Oregon Project, a group created to promote Nike products in track and field. Both of these women and other female athletes, including former ice skater Gracie Gold, reported similar pressures to not only stay skinny as the face of the project, but to continue to get thinner. Gold eventually developed eating disorders and was driven to thoughts of suicide. Other female athletes reported on having developed other disorders and mental health issues.

With a visible trend like this, it is clear that Nike is willing to put image before their athletes, showing them off like expensive dolls, then casting them aside after they break from an abusive lifestyle and near starvation.

It is not just these companies that are pushing an unhealthy and unrealistic standard for young women either. Mainstream media and modeling agencies put out these images of the perfect body for women that causes many young females to feel self-conscious and inadequate. According to The Sport Journal, around 31% of NCAA female athletes feel dissatisfied with their physique and are more likely to develop eating disorders.

The issue is that, in an effort to make a product or outfit more appealing and generate more revenue, companies are pairing products with an image of the female body seemingly conjured from fantasy. This makes for a pretty poster, but when this is all one sees, impressionable young women believe this is how they are ‘supposed’ to look.

The strives companies make towards fame and wealth presses other companies to do the same in an effort to be the most well-known and profitable business, whether it is selling clothing, or finding a face for your sports company.

In the present day, Cain is continuing her education for medical school, but still trains her body up to become strong enough to return to track and field in the near future.

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