- - Tuesday, August 14, 2018

So who will ultimately be held responsible for the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair?

Will anyone be held accountable for the death of a 19-year-old young man whose parents put their trust in educators and administrators? Or will it just be chalked up to football?

Or is there enough negligence to warrant a criminal investigation by Prince George’s County prosecutors?

An ESPN report last week leveled charges that football coach DJ Durkin is running a toxic program that promotes verbal abuse and humiliation. The report said the culture contributed to the death of McNair weeks after he collapsed during a team workout.

The report claimed McNair might have been fearful to speak up about feeling physically ill in a program where coaches belittled a player who passed out, mocked players who needed to lose weight and forced another to overeat until he vomited.

The school hired Rod Walters, a sports medicine consultant, to review the circumstances of McNair’s death a week after he died in June.

Of course, hired means Maryland is paying Walters.

The school has put Durkin on administrative leave. They’ve also sent home head football athletic trainer Wes Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall.

The university announced Tuesday it has “parted ways” with Rick Court, Maryland’s assistant athletics director for sports performance.

Maryland athletic director Damon Evans wrote this in a letter to the school’s students, staff and alumni:

“I am extremely concerned by the allegations of unacceptable behaviors by members of our football staff detailed in recent media reports….the external review into the tragic death of Jordan McNair continues, and we have committed to releasing publicly the report being prepared by an independent and national expert. The safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority. These alleged behaviors are not consistent with the values I expect all of our staff to adhere to and we must do better. You will be hearing from me as our work continues to rebuild the culture of respect in our football program.”

School president Wallace D. Loh also issued a statement last week saying the school “will retain an external expert to undertake a comprehensive examination of our coaching practices in the football program, with the goal that these practices reflect — not subvert — the core values of our University.

“The University of Maryland is committed to a football program that is safe and humane, and where our student-athletes are successful in their academic and athletic endeavors. This commitment will be carried out with accountability, fairness, and transparency.”

Loh and Evans held a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Loh told reporters they met with McNair’s parents Tuesday morning in Baltimore to apologize and take “legal and moral responsibility.” They also announced they plan on forming a national commission to looking into the football culture at Maryland.

All this comes two months after McNair’s death and only after the ESPN report surfaced last week. Evans admitted that they failed to follow proper procedures in helping McNair when he was in distress.

None of this is likely going to cut it for the McNair family, which has hired heavyweight lawyer Billy Murphy to represent their interests. Nor should it.

Evans, who has been part of the Maryland athletic program since 2014, and Loh, who has been school president since 2010, are potential defendants in any legal action.

Public employees in Maryland have qualified immunity to protect against ordinary negligence claims. The McNairs would have to prove that the coaches acted with gross negligence or malice.

As there is a leap from negligence to gross negligence, there is another leap to make from gross negligence to criminal negligence. The standard is the degree of awareness of risky behavior.

If we are to believe that the people in charge of the health and safety of Jordan McNair were professionals expected to be aware of the standards for risky behavior, then it would seem that the circumstances surrounding his death would warrant an examination by the State’s Attorney’s office in Prince George’s County.

The office did not return phone calls in time for deadline Tuesday to respond to questions.

It would be a serious, dramatic decision. And I am not suggesting that such charges are warranted here. But given the reports to date, the possibility of gross negligence is certainly under review, and if that is the case, how far did that negligence go?

College athletics are in the muck of the swampland of at the very least, unethical and despicable behavior, some of which has led to criminal legal repercussions.

Three former Penn State administrators, including the former school president, went to jail on child endangerment charges for their part in the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. Last month it was reported that the Maryland basketball program has received several subpoenas in connection with the continuing federal investigation into college basketball corruption that resulted in the arrests of four assistant basketball coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Southern California last September.

The money in college sports has risen to unprecedented levels. Now, so have the costs.

⦁ Thom Loverro’s podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.

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