There is a heavy cloud hanging over the University of Maryland football team as they continue their training camp.
The university has placed multiple members of its athletics staff on administrative leave while the school continues its review of the death of football player Jordan McNair.
McNair, who was 19 at the time of his death, suffered a heatstroke at an organized team workout on May 29 and died on June 13. McNair’s parents announced the cause of death in early July. Their attorney, Billy Murphy, told the Washington Post on Friday that a lawsuit is “likely”.
Maryland has refused to identify the staffers placed on leave and defended the decision in the following statement:
“We will be able to speak in greater detail when the review is complete and shared with the public.”
However, it has been confirmed that head coach D.J. Durkin is not among those who are on leave, as he conducted practice on Friday. The Big Ten Network spoke with Durkin, who talked about how the team is handling the death of McNair.
“Every guy is at a different stage of a grieving process, and we are as a team,” he said. “So the one thing we’ve done here through camp, and we said this and we’ve done it, we’re going to talk about it. It’s OK to talk about it. We’re not going to just ignore it and pretend we’re going to move on. We’re going to talk about it. So we have guys get up and talk to the team at night, and that’s been brought up quite a bit.”
Walters Inc., an athletic training consulting firm, has been tasked with conducting the investigation and is expected to finish their review by Sept. 15, which happens to coincide with Maryland’s third game of the season against Temple.
Maryland started their training camp last week but has maintained closed practices. Reporters have not access to practices or to players and coaches, which isn’t a good look considering the most recent story that has come to light.
A spokesman for the university refused to comment on an ESPN story that was published early Friday regarding the university. The story, which cited not only former staffers but current and former players, spoke of the environment surrounding Maryland football as “based on fear and humiliation”, with daily verbal abuse of players and encouraging unhealthy eating habits to bulk up weight. According to the story, Durkin primarily oversaw the abuse, while the strength and conditioning coach carried out most of it.
A former player under Durkin spoke to the Post regarding the ESPN story, and in the interview, he painted a similar story.
“That was just Rick; it was all him,” said the player, who also spent a season under former head coach Randy Edsall. He noted that the abuse started when Durkin took over the program. “There was just constant degrading of players, and that was the culture they brought to the program, and they thought it would toughen us up.”
The player also confirmed to the Post that another former offensive lineman was forced to eat candy bars while watching his teammates work out; this was done as a tactic to shame him into losing weight. Another injured player had his locker moved to the showers in an attempt to humiliate him. Multiple players spoke with the Post about how they were encouraged to finish workouts regardless of condition, otherwise, they would be humiliated.
“It became the standard. No one was going to accept, ‘I just won’t finish the workout because I’m exhausted.’ You had to finish,” the former player told The Post on Friday. “Workouts determine if you are going to play for Coach Durkin. If you show you can’t work out to that standard, then you’re not going to see playing time. I don’t know how it is in other programs, but if you show weakness during workouts, I’m pretty sure [Durkin] is automatically going to think that when the pads come on and it’s time to play, he can’t trust you.”
A report by ESPN showed that McNair, according to his attorney, suffered a seizure around 5 p.m., 45 minutes after the workout began. In an incident report by Prince George County medical responders, it showed that the initial 911 call was made at 5:57 p.m., with a second, made 10 minutes later. McNair was transported to Washington Adventist Hospital before being airlifted to R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he remained until his death. According to Murphy, McNair was admitted into the hospital with a body temperature of 106 degrees.
The May 29 workout was held by the strength and conditioning staff at Maryland’s outside training facilities, where the temperature was roughly 80 degrees, according to a loose account of the day by the university. Durkin was present at the workouts, where McNair has trouble recovering from a conditioning test that consisted of 10 110-yard sprints.
Douglas Casa, the chief executive officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut, explained that a situation like this could have and should have been prevented.
“The bottom line when you look at a case like this, and I’m not doing this to point blame or anything, but there was something done incorrectly in this situation,” Casa told The Post last month. The institute works to prevent sudden death in sport, which was the same situation the namesake player suffered from. “We know that because he died from heatstroke, and within an organized sports setting, no one should die from heatstroke.
“It would be different if you had a situation that was 70 percent effective or 60 percent effective; this is 100 percent effective if you utilize cold-water immersion within 30 minutes and you get someone’s temperature down rapidly. It’s not hard to get someone’s temperature down to 104 within 30 minutes if you use the right cooling modality.”
Based on what we do know, if these stories can be corroborated, Maryland has to cut bait. With the current situation going on with at Ohio State and past situations with Penn State University, the school has to act in a manner that makes things clear. And if the review comes back negatively and Maryland STILL refuses to do anything, the Big Ten Conference needs to step in.
The conference has had multiple black eyes over the last 15 years in regard to public relations, and the Maryland incident is another notch in their belt that they didn’t need. Due process is important, so we have to assume that these stories are just that, stories. But, if it does happen that even one of these is accurate, Durkin and his entire staff have to go.