Overtime: Athletes are Not Machines

Evidenced by the abuse at the country’s leading athletic school in Oregon, Robert Johnson does not have much of a career ahead coaching at Oregon,


The University of Oregon’s TrackTown is home to the latest scandal surrounding track and field. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Being an athlete is more than just doing workouts and eating healthy. It entails discipline and monitoring yourself so that you are able to perform at your highest level and be the best athlete you can be. No one knows this better than the track and field athletes at the University of Oregon (UO), the best track school in the nation, located in Tracktown, U.S.A., also known as Eugene, Oregon. However, it has recently been revealed that not everything is perfect in the beautiful, bright land of Tracktown. 

There have been numerous articles and exposes on the truth behind Nike Track & Field and the University of Oregon’s treatment of its athletes. It seems like every few months a new revelation comes out about how track and field athletes are being treated by some of the top coaches and trainers in the world. Most recently, another article by Oregon Live reveals some more details about the inside training of the college athletes at UO. 

Head coach Robert Johnson makes sure that his athletes receive numerous tests as they train throughout the season. These tests include a DEXA scan, which uses X-ray technology to measure bone density and body fat percentage. On top of these tests, athletes have to succumb to different blood and hydration tests. While a lot of female athletes have come forward and revealed how these tests have damaged their mental health, Johnson emphasized how these tests have added science to the numerically based sport. He “contends his scientific approach largely removes human bias from judgments about athletes and allows the UO coaching staff to design workouts precisely tailored to each athlete’s needs.”

This “scientific approach” takes out the emotional aspect of a sport that is not meant to be run by robots. Johnson claims to want to focus on the numbers but fails to recognize how his athletes might feel about those numbers. Athletes are not machines, but Johnson seems to be focused on robbing all the humanity from the sport. 

Multiple women who were on the UO track team have come forward and explained how they felt while running under coach Johnson. Some said they would starve themselves before their tests just to make sure that their numbers were up to par so that they would not be singled out by their coach. Another athlete who came forward revealed that she was told to have her body fat percentage down to 13% when she was already told by her personal doctor that she should not try to lose more weight. However, she still forced herself to try and reach the numbers that would allow her to compete and not be subject to her coach’s criticisms. She forced herself to binge eat because of this in order to remain on the levels necessitated by her coach and doctor, hoping to balance it out. This led to feelings of depression and guilt, and she ended up leaving the program.

Not everyone felt subject to such mental battles that these women faced, but this does not negate the truths that are being revealed about what is supposed to be the best place to train for track and field. Former runners are only now beginning to reveal what really happens when they train to be the best and how their mental health is harmed by coaches such as Johnson’s grueling programs and practices..

Johnson responded to comments made about him and his program in the article, voicing his apologies for the fact that so many people left his program because of the mental stress they were going through. He said he “acted swiftly and decisively to intervene when learning of athletes with disordered eating, or with emotional or physical problems.” In noting his job as a head coach intent on making money for the school, Johnson seems to be focused on the numerical aspect of his athletes by making sure that they have the body weight and physical composition that is necessary for the biggest school in track to win.