I want to make one thing clear because other outlets and even schools don’t seem to be doing so. Our condolences and thoughts go out to the family of Jordan McNair. I can’t comment on how it feels to lose someone, not like that. Nor can I put myself in your shoes. All I know is that in your time of need, you should come first. While the Maryland Terrapins community is suffering right now, I feel like they and the media have mismanaged your situation. It has made me so angry that I’m launching the thought dump as part of LazyBets. Someone should say something, so I will.
Jordan McNair’s Tragic Story:
It all started with a conditioning drill. There, at the University of Maryland, 19-year-old Jordan McNair began showing signs of extreme heat exhaustion. According to reports, the Maryland Football “strength drills” in question began at 4:15 PM eastern time on May 29th.
This is the end of where the story is clear. There are multiple reports of what happened, most of which came out of incredibly solid investigative reporting from ESPN.
On paper, a 5:58 p.m. 911 call came in describing McNair as “hyperventilating” and “unable to control his breath.”
This is the first set of red flags on an institutional failure. The first denotation is the symptoms he describes. They’re inconsistent and also lighten the severity McNair’s condition to emergency personnel. The second and more glaring item is the timing. It’s much more damning. The call came 45 minutes to an hour after McNair’s struggles began and show pure negligence if not blatant ignorance.
Secondary reports suggest McNair wasn’t just having trouble breathing but had a “seizure” or seizure like symptoms on the practice field. ESPN even suggests that they happened during the drill which the University has come out and denied during later statements.
Athletic director Damon Evans claimed that McNair completed the entirety of the drills under his own power. Multiple witnesses to the workout suggest differently. Evans needed the aide of two teammates to complete the workouts suggesting he shouldn’t have finished them at all.
No matter which report is right, the story seems pretty clear.
McNair was struggling and doing so seriously. It started around 5:00. No one really cared or found it alarming for a full hour. They even assisted him in exerting himself further when they forced him to finish.
McNair was taken to Washington Adventist Hospital on May 29. He died tragically two weeks later June 13.
DJ Durkin and Rick Court
Head Coach DJ Durkin and Strength Coach Rick Court are the most obvious to blame for this. Failures always stem top down, and from the sound of it, Durkin did a poor job of giving his coaching staff a clear view of what is important within a college football program. Protecting a young man’s life and mind during critical stages should be the paramount focus of college athletics. That certainly wasn’t the case at Maryland.
Calling an Ambulance for Overheating
You can research any number of ways the Maryland University coaching staff could have done better here. For starters, there’s training the staff to pick up the signs of this kind of stuff. That's supposed to be a prerequisite for this type of high intensity job.
It’s sad to me that the strength coach was savvy enough to build muscles and even the support for a new gym on campus, but he wasn’t savvy enough to take care of player health. It shows where the importance is within the program.
We’re not talking about head to head hits here and a head injury causing chaos and ending a life. We’re talking about sprints and feeling a guy’s forehead for fever. According to reports, the coaches and training staff didn’t even take his temperature.
My young nieces and nephews know how to check for a fever. They also know how to call an ambulance.
I find it difficult to believe that a task that a 6 year old can accomplish wasn’t completed by two men who get paid millions to oversee players and their health as they work out.
To make things worse, it's hard to imagine a school with an endowment of half a billion didn’t have an ambulance at the practice field. Perhaps a bit too much Terp athletic money is going into the jerseys.
Culture of Bullying at Maryland
ESPN.com made things look even worse for Durkin and Court. They published a piece describing tactics of humiliation, verbal abuse, and overall fear that created a toxic environment for players in the locker room at Maryland. Food and eating methods are part of their regiment. Food is allegedly something the Terps staff bizarrely were using to punish players.
Bullying and fear are not uncommon practices and do look the culprit here. If you’re starting to lose it from heat stroke, the last thing you’re going to want to do is finish a drill. The fact that McNair did and two players helped him speaks to the level of fear that was really present at Maryland. It’s a culture where players who clearly know something is wrong don’t feel comfortable speaking up, even when it's life or death.
It turns out that shameful treatment creates issues with the checks and balances that normally exist in a culture set, and that’s just one of the reasons that McNair isn’t with us anymore today.
Rick Court Resignation Letter
As if the ambulance and the bullying weren’t enough, Court seems to feel very little remorse for his actions. Rick Court’s resignation letter is deserving of vicious criticism. I’ve never read something so inflammatory in such proximity to a tragic event.Let’s start with priorities.
The letter features these things in the first paragraph: “As a coach,” “I strive,” “I have offered.”
These are in the second paragraph: “football student athlete’s mental and physical health,” “I am stepping down,” “the team,” “I will be transparent,” “I will continue to cooperate,” “I will ensure a smooth transition.”
In the third paragraph: “Jordan McNair’s Life.”
Someone died here, but in Rick Court’s case there are other aspects of life that need to be handled first. His life as a coach, the team, and the mental and physical health of athletes are much more “topical” in his mind, especially when in the media eye.
One must wonder if such a mentality cut its way into practice. Conventional thought suggests it would. Court clearly had one thing in mind, and that was himself. How else are we supposed to digest the most important letter of a man's life, all caused by another man's death, when that man is only mentioned once?
The line, “What did we learn? How will we improve? What can we do to pay tribute to Jordan’s life?” further reinforces the lack of awareness that has been shown by Court’s actions throughout. The words read like a coach reminiscing on seasons past and the next chapter for his team.
We won't be doing anything. Jordan is dead.
Court is delusional. McNair’s life isn’t and wasn’t a season. There is no next year for the game he just lost. Jordan and his family don’t get that luxury.
Never once does Court apologize or grieve for the man that has been killed. The former Maryland coach shows no guilt or signs of sorrow around the deepest loss the McNair family has ever encountered.
Court’s resignation is pathetic. In it he is more concerned with thanking his loyal fans and supporters. The rest of the letter reads as if Court is walking off the stage at the academy awards.
Ending this with "Go Terps" really is the mic drop everyone would expect. In the end, Court spent as much time trumpeting his now former club as he did sympathizing for a family in morning. It makes you wonder what the real intention was for the letter.
I guess the real travesty here is that 315k a year doesn’t even buy a genuine letter from a lawyer anymore. Here it bought a public defense of guilt and the peacocking of a pathetic man.
Maryland President Wallace Loh
Finally, there's Wallace Loh. Loh is key and is the University of Maryland President. He manages much more than the athletic program. He will need to create the change that Maryland needs moving forward.
Little has been shown so far to convince the public that will happen.
Loh has kept a clean image through all of this and even managed to troll a press room by wearing a Maryland Terrapin bow tie to a presser about a tragic player death.
I get confidence, but to this press conference?
In the presser, Loh confirmed that Maryland would be taking all legal and moral responsibility for the issues revolving around the Jordan McNair case. He had spoken to the family of the McNair and the University had failed.
“They entrusted their son to us, and he did not return home.”
Loh's statement sums it up, but let’s be real here. Loh’s visit and the timing of his statement are no accident. Maryland just concluded an internal review that proved them to be at fault.
The visit to the McNair family almost certainly came with the check from the endowment to keep this out of court.
All of that is fine, good, and justified. The McNair family should be compensated beyond belief for this terrible tragedy. Maryland's haste to admit guilt will likely keep this out of court and get it out of a media cycle that is no doubt hurting the school's reputation to prospective students.
What resonates is that no amount of money will bring back the lineman and someone’s son. What will Maryland do to make sure that this doesn't happen to another son or daughter?
The answer is simple. It starts from the top down and it all comes back to Head Coach DJ Durkin, Athletic Director Damon Evans, and calling an ambulance.
If the head coaches or directors employed can’t teach understudies to make a 911 call, then Wallace Loh knows the first calls he needs to make with his employees. Firing Durkin and Evans is the change the Maryland culture needs. Awake us from this bad dream and ensure such recklessness never happens again!
This isn't a story of heat stroke. This is a story of human error. One human soul is gone, and the humans that made the real errors still have meaningful jobs. What's worse is they still oversee young adults in extreme situations.
Even if it costs stability, safety should be more important than wins in Maryland this football season.
You know what you need to do Loh.
This piece is editorial in nature and the views expressed in it are that of the writer and the writer’s alone.