I F’ing Hate Your Corporate Self-Investigation

Update: On January 31st, 2020 — the same day we published this post! — the New York Times reported that Alberto Salazar has been temporarily banned from coaching by the United States Center for SafeSport. The Center is investigating Salazar’s treatment of women during his time at the Nike Oregon Project; depending on the results of the investigation, he may be subject to a lifetime ban. Salazar is already banned for four years due to anti-doping violations.

Last November, the runner Mary Cain alleged in the New York Times that former head coach Alberto Salazar and his colleagues at the Nike Oregon Project emotionally abused her and withheld food, essentially starving her in an attempt to get her to reach an unrealistic, untenable weight. Cain described in detail how mistreatment and permanent hunger drove her into a spiral of depression and self-harm as Salazar’s “coaching” eventually ruined her professional career. Nike acted quickly after Cain’s piece was published: Salazar, already banned for doping violations, was fired, and the Nike Oregon Project shut down (though some of its athletes are still coached by Salazar’s assistant, Pete Julian.) Nike professed to find her allegations “troubling” and, of course, claimed the company had no idea anything was wrong. After an attempt at victim blaming — stating that Cain had never mentioned anything at the time — Nike pledged to conduct an internal investigation into what happened to Cain and other women, including Amy Yoder Begley, under Salazar’s watch.

Did the words “internal investigation” just spark an inner scream of rage for you, too? Prepare your inner ears for more screams, because Nike has now finished their “investigation,” and surprise! Women’s Running reported this week that the results are… a secret.

According to Women’s Running, Nike, in an email, said the investigation is complete but that any findings will remain internal. The company confirmed they’ll pour unspecified amounts of money into five vague-sounding initiatives that appear to be chosen specifically for their vagueness and ability to make the company sound good while not having to do much. The five initiatives are listed in the Women’s Running article, which I’ll let you read for yourselves. It’s hard to decide which one makes me feel most ranty. Ultimately, it comes down to a tie between these two: “Hiring a vice president of global womenโ€™s sports marketing in the coming weeks to have ‘strategic oversight’ of Nikeโ€™s female athletes,” and “investing in scientific research into the impact of elite athlete training of girls and women.”

Let’s start with the VP of women’s sports marketing. The well-being of Nike’s female athletes is a marketing concern? I’m no corporate mastermind, so I googled the definition of marketing just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood: “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” Thanks, Oxford English Dictionary! What does that have to do with athlete well-being? What qualifications will marketing VP have to carry out that part of their job? What would that part of the job even look like?

Remember, according to Sports Illustrated, Nike paid for a “sports psychologist” with no professional certification and dubious qualifications to take care of the Nike Oregon Project’s runners. The team “nutritionist” that Mary Cain worked with was neither a nutritionist nor a dietitian yet was, however, the wife of Pete Julian. This does not boost confidence that the well-being of athletes is of serious concern, and calls into question where “expertise” lies on the company’s list of hiring priorities. If I didn’t know for a fact that there are good people with actual expertise working at this company, people who know their stuff and take their jobs seriously every day, I’d say it looks a lot like your standard old boys’ club. Putting athlete well-being in the marketing department seems like a clear statement that you don’t care much about athlete well-being at all.

tl;dr this is meaningless corporate bullshit and we should all be offended that this company apparently believes we’ll take it for anything else.

The other piece of corporate bullshit, the “investing in scientific research,” has the potential to be less meaningless. Let’s be real, though. Do we really think this “research” is going to take the form of quality science published in peer-reviewed journals? If this research ever even happens, it sounds to me like the kind of privatized research that won’t lead to anything meaningful.

As Mango pointed out in our behind-the scenes Salty discussion about this, there is an almost direct parallel with this discussion of research, or lack thereof, into sustainability in women’s fashion. Turns out a lot of the “facts” cited about sustainability in fashion are actually not traceable or based on anything, so nobody can come up with standards or legislate around the issue. Sound familiar? It sounds a lot like the gaping research hole in women’s running to us. The gaping hole that is in no way going to shrink due to whatever private corporate research is supposedly going to happen here. As Mango put it, “when no one funds serious research into something that’s typically a ‘women’s’ domain (women athletes, fashion), the data just isn’t there, isn’t public, and no one can make good evidence-based decisions.”

The other listed initiatives are so vague that they don’t even merit a rant. Then again, that is probably the exact rationale for anodyne goals like “support crisis hotline” or “increase the number of women coaches in sports.” Who could have anything against that? I mean, I guess I could go on about how and when and where and whether “too few women coaches” even has anything to do with what happened to Mary Cain. But I can’t even be bothered.

In the end, this whole thing strikes me as 100% a wasted opportunity for real, lasting, and positive change. It reminds me very much of that Daniel Radcliffe meme from a 2012 SNL skit:

How do you feel about meaningless corporate bullshit?

I'm a 43-year-old living in Berlin, Germany and currently training for the 2020 Berlin Marathon.

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