Salazar, the famed distance running coach, has been permanently barred from the sport by the U.S. Center for SafeSport for sexual and emotional misconduct.
Nike confirmed Tuesday that it had renamed the Alberto Salazar Building on its Beaverton, Ore., campus, whose namesake was the famed distance running coach who has been barred from the sport for sexual and emotional misconduct. The change is a stunning and perhaps complete termination of the relationship between Nike and Salazar, who have been tightly linked for nearly four decades.
The final straw seems to have been a ruling last month from the U.S. Center for SafeSport that barred Salazar from the sport for life. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee established the center in 2017 to protect athletes from sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Salazar can appeal the ruling.
“This change follows the SafeSport decision to permanently ban Alberto from coaching,” a Nike spokeswoman said in a statement. “The nature of the allegations and the finding of a lifetime ban make it appropriate to change the name of the building.”
The building will now be named Next%, after one of Nike’s running shoes. News of the renaming was first reported by Willamette Week.
Nike’s Beaverton campus has a number of buildings named after some of the most famous athletes who have worn its swoosh, like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Salazar was one of the earlier honorees, in the 1990s, befitting his long and important association with Nike.
In the 1980s, Salazar ran for Athletics West, a Nike-sponsored running team, and won the New York Marathon three times and the Boston Marathon once. He was employed in Nike’s marketing department in the early 1990s, and was the Nike-funded coach of the Oregon Project distance running group for nearly 20 years.
Salazar is also close with Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike and the chairman emeritus of its board of directors. “Almost every step I’ve ever run has been supported, in one way or another, by Phil Knight and his vision as embodied by Nike,” Salazar wrote in his 2012 autobiography.
This is the third time in a decade that Nike has stripped a name off a building after serious wrongdoing. The Joe Paterno Child Development Center was renamed after the longtime Penn State football coach’s role in the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal became known, and the Lance Armstrong Fitness Center was renamed after the United States Anti-Doping Agency found that Armstrong had taken banned substances throughout his cycling career.
Nike’s break with Salazar was not inevitable, however, and when he first ran afoul of a sports governing organization, Nike stood firmly behind him.
In 2019, an arbitration panel imposed a four-year ban against Salazar for violating various antidoping regulations. Throughout Usada’s investigation that led to the ban, Nike paid for the lawyers used by Salazar and many of his runners that were interviewed, and the company also said it would fund his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“A four-year suspension for someone who acted in good faith is wrong,” Mark Parker, then the chief executive of Nike, wrote at the time. Salazar’s appeal is expected to be ruled upon soon.
Soon after, however, came the allegations of abuse and mistreatment.
SafeSport did not detail why Salazar was barred, except to say that it was for sexual and emotional misconduct. In January 2020 the organization temporarily barred Salazar from participating in track and field after a number of female runners who formerly trained under him, including Mary Cain, Amy Yoder Begley and Kara Goucher, described what they said were years of psychological and verbal abuse by Salazar.
They described Salazar regularly shaming them for their weight in front of teammates, and Cain said that she was “the victim of an abusive system, an abusive man.” Soon afterward Nike employees marched in protest at a rededication of the Alberto Salazar Building, which had been undergoing renovations.
Salazar has not responded directly to the SafeSport suspension but has said he did not encourage or shame Cain to maintain an unhealthy weight, though he admitted he may have “made comments that were callous or insensitive.”
Over the last two years Nike has slowly edged away from Salazar, a break the building renaming seemingly makes permanent.
The Oregon Project was shuttered, and Parker retired as chief executive of the company. (Nike said the retirement was unrelated to Salazar’s suspension.) Many of Nike’s top track and field executives have left the company.
And when Salazar was barred from SafeSport last month, Nike, often pugilistic in its defensiveness, instead just shrugged. In a three-sentence statement, it noted that “Alberto is no longer a contracted coach.”