Nike Oregon Project head coach Alberto Salazar was handed a four-year doping ban on Sept. 30 — but, in a memo sent to staffers and leaked on Twitter, Nike CEO Mark Parker refuted that the brand and Salazar had done anything wrong.
“Some of the recent public commentary has called into question whether I’ve lived up to our values in connection with information shared with me on the Oregon Project,” wrote Parker in an internal memo, reportedly sent to employees Oct. 1. “To have my name and Nike’s name linked to this reckless mischaracterization is offensive.”
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Following a six-year review process, the U.S. Anti-Doping Association (USADA) this week determined that Salazar trafficked testosterone, a banned substance, tampered/attempted to tamper with the doping control process and administered a prohibited IV infusion. Dr. Jeffrey Brown, a Houston-based endocrinologist who worked alongside Salazar as a paid consultant, has also received a four-year ban.
Email exchanges allegedly between Parker and Brown from 2009 were reported by the Wall Street Journal yesterday and picked up by other outlets. In the exchange, Brown reported testing testosterone creams on Salazar’s adult sons (neither of whom are professional athletes).
“Jeff, thanks for the update on the tests. It will be interesting to determine the minimal amount of topical male hormone required to create a positive test,” Parker wrote back at the time, according to WSJ. “Are there other topical hormones that would create more dramatic results…or other substances that would accelerate the rate of absorption into the body?”
In yesterday’s memo, Parker said the emails addressed Salazar’s “concern[s] that Nike athletes could be sabotaged by someone rubbing testosterone cream on them.”
“As this work was carried out with a medical doctor, I had no reason to believe the test was outside any rules. Alberto was attempting to prevent doping of athletes — exactly the opposite of some of the commentary you may have heard,” Parker wrote.
“Nike did not participate in any effort to systematically dope any runners ever; the very idea makes me sick,” he continued. “I would never condone cheating of any kind in sport or otherwise and I expect you [Nike employees] wouldn’t either.”
Parker also referred employees to Salazar’s statement, in which the coach said he would appeal the USADA’s decision.
“Throughout this six-year investigation my athletes and I have endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from USADA,” wrote Salazar in his statement. “The Oregon Project has never and will never permit doping. I will appeal and look forward to this unfair and protracted process reaching the conclusion I know to be true.”
A former University of Oregon runner, Salazar has led his athletes to success, including Olympic gold medalists Mo Farah and Matthew Centrowitz (both of whom have left the group). Among the NOP’s current members are two-time Olympic gold medalist Galen Rupp and Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy.
“We support Alberto in his decision to appeal and wish him the full measure of due process that the rules require,” Nike wrote in a statement issued to FN yesterday. “Nike does not condone the use of banned substances in any manner.”
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