there has not been the remotest expression of contrition over the Alberto Salazar findings
There was a time long ago when Nike had something resembling a soul. The firm's underdog spirit then morphed into something ugly and avaricious. Nike like brash, talented individuals who create noise and get them attention. Unpleasant, swaggering and consumed by hubris - Nike is heading for a fall.
There was a time, long before their visceral hatred of adidas fuelled a desire to become the biggest, brashest sports brand of all, when Nike had something resembling a soul.
In 1973, two years after the brand was born, their people stumbled upon a short, handsome, tough, local carpenter's son called Steve Prefontaine. He was 21 and Nike's first star runner. His homespun qualities were a million miles from this week's United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) revelations that Alberto Salazar briefed officials — the company's chief executive Mark Parker among others — about research designed to determine how much testosterone would trigger positive results in dope tests.
Some of the Nike old guard still remember Prefontaine ripping his toe on a motel diving board and being ordered to rest for two weeks, three days before one of his first significant distant runs in the firm's shoes. He jammed his foot in ice, taped it up and went on to win the meet. They called him just 'Pre'.
An athlete at Nike Oregon Project will have to take thyroid d–gs for the rest of their life because they were misprescribed the medicine while training at centre run by Alberto Salazar (above) +3
Alberto Salazar - in the Nike stable - was banned for four years this week for doping violations
He was k–led, aged 24, in 1975 when his little gold MG skidded 40 feet into a rock wall and he was catapulted on to the pavement by the impact. From the top to the bottom of Nike, there was incalculable grief.
That was before the firm's underdog spirit morphed into something ugly and avaricious. Executives poured money into the Beaverton training base, then called Athletics West, as a way of circumventing the sport's amateur sanctity and worked on performance-enhancing d–gs so brazenly that this week's revelations were no great surprise.
In her 1991 book Swoosh: the Unauthorised Story of Nike and the Men who Played There, former senior executive Julie Strasser revealed that minutes from a 1979 Nike corporate retreat detailed how Athletics West was developing steroids for athletes.
'Top Nike managers thus had access early on to information that Nike's idyllic athletes' club appeared to be condoning d–gs (that were) banned,' Strasser wrote, also quoting 1982 insurance records detailing testosterone tests and liver-function tests to establish the physiological effects of steroids on Beaverton athletes.
Strasser felt this was justifiable at a time when Russians and East Germans were also doping. 'Is it justifiable to do that when the other guy is cheating?' she said. 'Steroids had not yet become the major controversy they would.'
Nike CEO Mark Parker is reported to have said the company had never participated in any attempt to systematically dope runners
Parker is reported to have sent an email to employees on Tuesday insisting Nike had never participated in any attempt to systematically dope runners and 'the very idea makes me sick'. Yet he was a very significant presence at the company in the mid-1980s, leading work on the idea of a running shoe with as much air stuffed into it as possible.
He presented the idea of what would become the Nike Air to the main board in February 1985, insisting he would have the shoe available to view within 30 days.
This tall, thin, quiet young man, viewed as future CEO material, would have been a fixture at the corporate retreats.
A conversation with Strasser reveals Nike have never much bothered about bad PR because since the mid-1980s they have never gone in for sentiment. They like brash, talented individuals who, rough edges or not, create noise and get them attention.
When Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Oscar Pistorius and Salazar — all in the Nike stable — plumbed the depths of notoriety, Nike stood by them.
It goes without saying that there has not been the remotest expression of contrition from the firm this week and only denial. This is a company which considers itself untouchable, relying on cheerleaders at times like this. Paula Radcliffe, busily criticising USADA over the Salazar findings, Steve Cram and Lord Coe have been assets in that respect.
Tygart, who brought down cyclist Lance Armstrong, said: 'This has to open up the discussion +3
When Lance Armstrong and Co plumbed the depths of notoriety, Nike stood by them
But the veneer is being stripped away from this increasingly unpleasant corporate monolith. The firm's female employees last year led an internal revolt against what they saw as a toxic culture of bullying and harassment.
Current and former female Nike runners came forward to say they had been forced to decide whether to risk financial penalties from the firm by becoming pregnant. And thanks to the USADA investigation a calculated, premeditated use of d–gs has been laid bare.
An anecdote in Nike co-founder Phil Knight's 2016 memoir Shoe Dog relates how he opened a meeting of senior executives in 1978 by saying their industry was made up of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 'Adidas is Snow White, we are the biggest dwarf and next year one of the dwarfs is going to get into Snow White's pants,' he tells them.
Most corporate leaders would shudder at the memory. Knight delights in it. Unpleasant, swaggering, disagreeable and consumed by hubris — Nike is heading for a monumental fall.