U.S. Anti-Doping Agency officials called on Nike CEO Mark Parker on Wednesday to acknowledge the company mishandled its dealings with a company-sponsored running coach and doctor who experimented with performance-enhancing drugs.
“It’s time to accept that mistakes were made and now double down on protecting the rights of clean athletes,” agency CEO Travis T. Tygart said in a statement to FOX Business.
Parker, who has served as Nike’s CEO since 2006, drew renewed scrutiny this week after the American Arbitration Association issued four-year bans to Alberto Salazar, head of the prestigious Nike Oregon Project, and a Nike-backed doctor, Jeffrey Brown. A report prepared for anti-doping agency detailed evidence that Parker and other Nike executives had direct knowledge of their experiments with banned substances, including an effort to determine how much testosterone cream would cause a failed drug test.
Nike stock fell slightly in trading Wednesday alongside a broader market sell-off.
"The panel found there was no orchestrated doping, no finding that performance enhancing drugs have ever been used on Oregon Project athletes, and went out of its way to note Alberto’s desire to follow all rules," Nike said in a statement. "The decision had nothing to do with administering banned substances to any Oregon Project athlete."
In one July 2009 email exchange, Parker told Brown that it would “be interesting to determine the minimal amount of topical male hormone required to create a positive test.”
A company spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that Parker’s discussions with Salazar arose out of concern that Nike-sponsored athletes could be targeted for sabotage involving topical substances, rather than a doping effort.
“Mark was shocked that this could be the case and given Mark’s passion for running, Dr. Brown and Alberto made Mark aware of their findings,” the spokesman told the Journal. “Mark Parker had no reason to believe that the test was outside any rules as a medical doctor was involved. Furthermore, Mark’s understanding was that Alberto was attempting to prevent doping of his athletes.”
Parker also addressed the report's findings in a memo to Nike employees this week, noting that recent reports had "called into question whether I've lived up to our values in connection with information shared with me on the Oregon Project."
“As this work was carried out with a medical doctor, I had no reason to believe the test was outside any rules," Parker said in the memo. "Alberto was attempting to prevent doping of athletes — exactly the opposite of some of the commentary you may have heard. I wanted to understand what was going on. Nike did not participate in any effort to systematically dope any runners ever; the very idea makes me sick."
Citing determinations by independent arbitration association panels, the anti-doping agency said Salazar and Brown received their sanctions for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct,” including evidence tampering and trafficking of testosterone.
Salazar has denied wrongdoing and vowed to appeal the anti-doping agency’s decision. Brown has yet to publicly comment.
Earlier this week, Nike expressed support for Salazar’s decision to appeal the ruling and said it “does not condone the use of banned substances in any manner.”
The arbitrators' report noted that while Salazar had committed violations, they did not appear to have occurred out of an effort to cheat at competition.
"The Panel notes that the Respondent [Salazar] does not appear to have been motivated by any bad intention to commit the violations the Panel found. In fact, the Panel was struck by the amount of care generally taken by Respondent to ensure that whatever new technique or method or substance he was going to try was lawful under the World Anti-Doping Code, with USADA’s witness characterizing him as the coach they heard from the most with respect to trying to ensure that he was complying with his obligations," the report said.
This story has been updated.