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If Allegations At Maryland Are True, Firing DJ Durkin Is Not Enough

Two months ago, University of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair died following a preseason workout in College Park.

Two months ago, University of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair died following a preseason workout in College Park. 

While completing a conditioning test on May 29th, McNair collapsed from an apparent heatstroke during a series of 110-yard sprints. He had a body temperature of 106 degrees after being taken to a hospital and passed away two weeks later.

It was a sad reminder of the fragility of life, and most in the sports world, along with those in the Maryland community, grieved for the loss of a young man whose future seemed pregnant with possibility.

McNair, a product of the prestigious Baltimore area McDonogh School, was only 19 years old. He was slated to be a redshirt freshman for the Terps this fall. 


Jordan McNair Highlights

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To those who’d known or simply interacted with him, his easygoing personality, work ethic on the field and in his academic endeavors, and a smile that was often described as infectious, left lasting impressions.

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, there were 145 cases of heatstroke-related deaths in football players at all levels between 1960 and 2017, of which 90 percent of those occurred during practices.

On the surface, McNair’s death seemed to be another unfortunate tragedy involving football players pushing themselves beyond exhaustion under conditions of extreme heat.


But now, we’re learning more about what may have caused his death, not only in the moment but also through the culture of the Maryland football program.

University of Maryland football program scrutinized after player death

The lawyer for the family of a University of Maryland football player who died after an intense workout is calling for the head football coach to be fired. Jordan McNair died 15 days after showing signs of heatstroke and collapsing on the field. An ESPN report alleges a “toxic coaching culture” may have played a role.


And to anyone who cares about college athletics and what they’re supposed to stand for, to anyone in the University of Maryland community who believes in the ideals of the school’s mission, to any parent who sits across from a football coach during a recruiting visit and listens to the sales pitch of the staff promising to take care of their son for the years that he’s on campus, the foul stench of toxicity that’s now emanating from McNair’s death is beyond shocking.

It’s utterly asinine and infuriating.  

The culture that Terrapin head football coach DJ Durkin implemented with his vision of making Maryland an emerging powerhouse in the Big Ten and nationally was exposed in a searing piece by ESPN on Friday. 

Current and former players, along with present and past program staff described an atmosphere not rooted in love, support and encouragement, or even tough love, but one based on fear and intimidation. 

Players being humiliated, belittled and verbally abused was commonplace, with obscenities used as a common tool to, as the ESPN writers point out, “…mock their masculinity when they are unable to complete a workout or weight lift, for example. One player was belittled verbally after passing out during a drill.”



Coaches forced one player to overeat to the point of vomiting, the article said, and another whom the coaches wanted to lose weight was forced to eat candy bars while watching teammates working out.


  • In high school and college football, hot-headed, hard-driving and foul-mouthed coaches are nothing new. But what’s emerging at Maryland goes beyond being unacceptable and inappropriate, and into the realm of ultimately causing a death that could have been averted by anyone in charge with common sense and sympathy.
  • Head football coach DJ Durkin, strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, director of athletic training Steve Nordwall and athletic trainer Wes Robinson have all been placed on administrative leave. 
  • But that’s not enough. They need to be fired immediately. 
  • And if the allegations are true, they should be brought before the justice system to answer for what, undoubtedly, were actions that ultimately look to be criminal in nature.

UMD coach gets emotional about death of football player Jordan McNair

The 19-year-old University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair died two weeks after collapsing during a team workout. Head Football Coach D.J. Durkin got emotional while talking about losing one of his own.

For too long, college football players, the majority of whom are African-American, have been used and abused by the NCAA and their respective schools. As the profits pour in, the players are not compensated for the revenue that they generate with their blood, sweat, tears and labor. 

And the coaches, the majority of whom are white, are free to conduct their programs with a plantation mentality while not only raking in millions in salary, but being empowered to run off anyone who doesn’t buy into the inner workings of the machine.

More than 20 players have left the team since Durkin took over the program over two years ago. J.T. Ventura, a former safety who played from 2013 to 2017 under former Maryland coach Randy Edsall and Durkin, told ESPN, “They were trying to weed out players. They actually called some players ‘thieves’ for being on scholarship and not being very good. During some of the workouts, there were kids who were really struggling, and Coach Court, he’d keep on yelling. He would use profanity a lot, try to push kids when they reached their limit during workouts.


“If a kid would stop or go on the ground, him and the medical staff would try to drag players up and get them to run after they’d already reached their limit. They definitely bullied us to make sure we kept on going.”

They evidently bullied Jordan McNair after he’d reached his limit. During that deadly workout, after McNair finished his 10th sprint while two other players held him up, athletic trainer Wes Robinson could be heard yelling, “Drag his ass across the field!”

“I would’ve never thought a kid would pay the ultimate price,” an anonymous former staff member told ESPN. “I don’t know, maybe we were all blind to what was being developed there. I don’t know. I just hope it doesn’t happen again.”

There also appear to be discrepancies about how long it took, once McNair started showing signs of distress, for football staffers to alert EMS. 


Billy Murphy, a lawyer for McNairs family, said that Marylands 911 call for help, which was recorded at 5:58 p.m., did not come until nearly an hour after McNair had first had convulsions at around 5 p.m. 


Maryland Statement on Passing of Jordan McNair | Big Ten Football

Maryland releases a statement regarding the passing of football player Jordan McNair. SUBSCRIBE to Big Ten Network on YouTube for the latest highlights and videos: http://www.btn.com/youtubesubscribe Looking for videos for your favorite Big Ten school?

Durkin coached his last practice on Saturday before being placed on paid administrative leave. 

If the allegations that are now surfacing are true, he’ll hopefully never coach again, never be in a position of leadership as it relates to any athlete, and never have the authority to create a climate of intimidation like the one at Maryland, a climate that ultimately claimed the life of a bright, innocent young man who just wanted to play big time college football close to home.

At some point during McNair’s recruiting process, Durkin promised his parents that he and the program would take care of their son. Instead, the environment that he created played a critical role in his death.

Somehow, losing his job doesn’t seem like an appropriate punishment. If the allegations are true, he needs to be charged with a crime. Because not only was the environment around Maryland football a threatening and abusive one, it contributed to many players feeling like they couldn’t beg off of grueling workouts for fear of being ridiculed, demeaned and singled out.



And sadly, if that’s the case, with McNair being in obvious distress, with teammates having to carry him across the finish line while a trusted adult screams, “Drag his ass across the field!”, then some blame needs to be assigned to his death.

When coaches win, they’re glorified. When they lose, they’re fired. And when they’re responsible for abuse and creating an atmosphere like the one being described at Maryland, they shouldn’t be able to walk away with a golden parachute, free to join another coaching staff. They need to held accountable in a court of law.


***

Update: During a press conference held on Tuesday afternoon, University of Maryland president Wallace Loh and athletic director Damon Evans took responsibility for the death of McNair. However, the university has not yet made a decision regarding the status of football coach DJ Durkin, who will remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the program.

Loh said that he met with McNair’s parents “to express, on behalf of the university, our apology for the loss of their son. I said to them, and I said I would mention it publicly this afternoon — but I wanted them to hear it directly from me this morning — the university accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made on that fateful workout day of May the 29th, which of course led subsequently to his death on June 13th.



“Based upon what we know at this time, even though the final report is not completed, I said to the family, ‘The university owes you an apology. You entrusted Jordan to our care, and he is never returning home again,'” Loh added.

Loh also strongly condemned the allegations of verbal and mental abuses that contributed to a “toxic culture” at Maryland, which has already been under self-appointed external investigation since the death of McNair.

“With regard to these allegations, they are totally inconsistent with what we stand for and our values, which is about education, preparing student-athletes for life and being treated with respect and dignity. You can motivate people — push them to the limit — without engaging in bullying and behavior. But these are allegations we have to take very, very seriously. What fair process demands is that we do a thorough investigation by an independent group and they make recommendations, and we will implement those recommendations and we will monitor the continued implementation of those recommendations,” Loh added.

“Conduct that is simply inappropriate, unacceptable of alleged bullying, alleged intimidation, alleged denigration of student-athletes: My office is setup to receive — and we receive lots and lots of expressions of concern and issues and problems from faculty, staff, students and others,” Loh said. “In this case, we learned about these allegations from the media. But regardless of the source, what’s important is how we address it.”

Reacting to Maryland’s ‘stunning’ Jordan McNair press conference | College Football Live | ESPN

The College Football Live team reacts to Maryland’s press conference apologizing and taking responsibility for the death of Jordan McNair, from University of Maryland president Wallace D. Loh and athletic director Damon Evans, with Paul Finebaum calling it “stunning.”



An investigation into McNair’s death will be released publicly some time in mid-September. However, Evans said during the press conference that McNair “did not receive appropriate medical care and mistakes were made by some of our athletic training personnel.”

“The emergency response plan was not appropriately followed,” Evans said. “Second, the care we provided was not consistent with best practices. And third, heat illness was not properly identified or treated. Our athletic training staff did not take Jordan’s temperature and did not apply a cold-water immersion treatment.”

Evans also announced that it had parted ways with head strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, one of Durkin’s first hires.

Ali

Alejandro “Ali” Danois is the Editor-in-Chief of The Shadow League. His features “Humble Beginnings”, and “Rocky Flop” were mentioned in the Best American Sports Writing Anthology as among the country’s most notable stories of 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Ali is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, and he served as a Producer on the ESPN Films 30-for-30 documentary “Baltimore Boys”.

Follow him on twitter @alidanois