An all too familiar conversation continues after the death of Jordan McNair
Jordan McNair was a nineteen-year-old football player for the University Of Maryland.
On May 29, 2018, McNair was in the midst of a gruelling set of ten 110-yard sprints, a tall task for the 290 lb offensive lineman.
It was then, during his eighth run that he collapsed due to cramps. He was able to get back up and complete all ten of the sprints, albeit was struggling with them. Only after the sprints was when he began to receive treatment from one of the trainers. While he was showing textbook signs of heatstroke, the trainers instead misdiagnosed him with cramps, and wrapped cold towels around them.
As he became increasingly irritable on the sidelines, a 911 call was made. He then began to foam at the mouth, the early signs of a seizure. Two ambulances arrived, and at this time, more than an hour after the completion of sprints, cold water immersion is done. Cold water immersion is 100% effective in preventing fatalities from heatstroke, when done within 10 minutes.
McNair was kept in the hospital for two weeks, until, on June 13, he died from complications of heatstroke.
McNair’s tragic death began the cascade of deplorable behaviour that was exhibited by the university.
The unpreparedness of the trainers was initially brought into question, and then it was an ESPN investigation where they discovered a “football culture based on fear and intimidation”, spearheaded by head coach DJ Durkin, and Strength Coach Rick Court.
Here are just a few examples of Court’s behaviour, and the culture that contributed to it:
- A former player said that Court told another athlete he was a “waste of life” and that “you should just fucking kill yourself.”
- “Throwing food, weights, and on one occasion a trash can full of vomit.”
- A player whom coaches wanted to lose weight was forced to eat candy bars as his teammates worked out.
- A former staff member was quoted as saying: “I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there.”
- A former defensive lineman, who ended up transferring summed up his experience at Maryland, “They did go by the philosophy of balls to the wall. Push to the extreme? That was an everyday thing. I’ve seen him get physical with guys sometimes, throw objects at guys sometimes.”
- A current player added: “They usually target and pick a couple people they think are soft and go after them…. Durkin and Court feed off each other. I would say Court is as much responsible for the culture as Durkin.”
Durkin was put on paid administrative leave following this report, on August 11.
Court ended up resigning on August 14, yet was paid out 2/3rds of his remaining contract (approximately $315 000).
Then, after an extensive investigation by the university, the Board of Regents ruled on October 30 that Durkin was found not liable, and as a result, would be allowed to coach the team again, despite claims from an external investigation showing that the President Wallace Loh failed to control both the athletic department and the abuse allegations.
The investigation also claims that former Athletic Director (AD), Kevin Anderson, helped foster a dysfunctional environment rooted by infighting from the utter disregard for accountability, and that current AD Damon Evans had a rift that led to utter chaos within the administrative structure of the university athletic department. Claims continue that Court was not held accountable for his persistent terrorizing of players.
The next day after a searing crucifixion by the media on their decision, the board reversed it, and decided to fire Durkin.
According to Maryland University’s website, The Board of Regents consists of 17 members, including one full time student; their role is to “oversee the system’s academic, administrative and financial operations: formulate policy; and appoint the USM chancellor and presidents of the systems 12 institutions”. They are akin to StFX’s Board of Governors.
Similarly, StFX’s administration admittedly mishandled the sexual assault case brought forth last month, which has made the administrative deficiencies between the two universities quite notable.
From the public perspective, along with students, athletes and other teachers, Durkin should have been fired instantly.
StFX should have issued an apology and warning to the victim that her assailant was returning to campus.
Marty McNair, Jordan’s father, upon hearing that Durkin was initially returning to coach, issued this haunting quote.
“I felt like I’ve been punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face.”
I can only assume this is what the victim from STFX felt, having horrifically seen her assaulter back on campus, and was unbeknownst of his re-entry into university.
Of course, I am by no means intending to directly or unilaterally compare Maryland and StFX’s recent issues, as they were different in their scope and complexity.
Perhaps a comparison to Baylor University’s football scandal in 2016 is better suited, where they were reported to have consistently covered up claims of sexual assault by the football players. These cover ups stretched as early as 2012.
Or maybe another comparison is the 2011 Penn State child sex abuse cover up. Where Jerry Sandusky, former assistant for the football team, methodically groomed and abused children from 1994 to 2009. The president, vice president, AD and head coach were all indicted on charges of failure to report these heinous acts.
Consider last year’s USA Gymnastics scandal, involving Larry Nassar, where Michigan State University’s gymnastics coach was reported to have pressured former athletes to stay quiet about claims of Nassar.
What has been made clear is the routinized negligence by administrations that would rather protect the institution, instead of the individuals affected. It sets a dangerous rhetoric for future occurrences.
Contrary to titles and recognition, not all universities have a power structure that relies solely on the school president. Schools rely on donations from alumni and businesses to pay for salaries and other expenses.
Therefore, it is not hard to understand, for many schools, why football teams have boosters. These boosters provide a lot of money to the athletic programs, and as a result, have the power to pressure administrative staff to decisions that are not morally right.
In Maryland, President Loh was not immune to the impact of the boosters. He reportedly had an ultimatum given to him by the board: reinstate Durkin, or be fired.
Even though Durkin was fired, it was without ‘cause’, and as a result, he will be paid out his remaining salary on his contract ($5.5 million).
Dangerous rhetoric indeed.