COLLEGE PARK — University of Maryland officials admitted Tuesday that student-athlete Jordan McNair was not properly treated when he collapsed in a football team workout in May.
“The university accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made on that fateful workout day, May 29,” university president Wallace D. Loh said.
Loh and athletic director Damon Evans addressed a room of dozens of reporters about the investigation into McNair’s death and the state of the football program. Although other major college football programs have admitted some fault in recent player deaths, it does not usually come so soon after the events take place.
Evans also announced that the football program “parted ways” with strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, who later explained on Twitter he had resigned. Head coach DJ Durkin has not been fired and remains on administrative leave.
McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman, died in June two weeks after collapsing during a team workout and being hospitalized. According to preliminary findings from an investigation led by the firm Walters Inc., McNair did not receive appropriate medical care from Maryland’s athletic training staff, Evans said.
The staff did not follow the emergency response plan, provide care consistent with best practices or properly diagnose and treat the player’s heat illness.
“Our athletic training staff did not take Jordan’s temperature and did not apply a cold water immersion treatment,” Evans said, describing basic steps used to treat a patient with heatstroke.
The McNair family announced last month that heatstroke was the cause of death, a claim later verified by multiple outlets. Loh and Evans said they met with McNair’s parents in Baltimore on Tuesday morning to share the investigation’s initial findings before addressing the public.
McNair might have been afraid to speak up about how he felt during the workout due to a “toxic culture” alleged by several named and anonymous sources in an ESPN investigative report published last Friday.
In the report, current and former players and former coaches described a culture based on fear and intimidation. Court was accused of throwing small weights in players’ direction, and an underweight player was forced to overeat until he vomited.
Loh announced a four-person commission to review the practices and culture of the football program. It includes Benson Everett Legg and Alex Williams Jr., two retired U.S. District Judges for the U.S. District Court for Maryland, and Charles Scheeler, who served as Penn State’s monitor following its sexual abuse scandal and as the lead counsel to George Mitchell in the steroid-era “Mitchell Report” in baseball.
The unnamed fourth member, Loh said, will be a “highly respected, retired head football coach.”
The commission will interview student-athletes, parents, coaches and staff and write a report based on the allegations in the ESPN story. It is separate from the investigation into McNair’s death, which will be concluded around mid-September.
“We take those reports very seriously, but I think due process does require us to lay out the facts, give people a chance to respond, and then we will act,” Loh said.
Durkin was placed on administrative leave about 24 hours after ESPN published its story, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada was named the team’s interim head coach over the weekend. Canada only arrived in Maryland in January and was not the subject of any accusations in ESPN’s report.
Loh’s early and emphatic admission of the school’s responsibility is a stark contrast to another case from the University of Central Florida, when a jury awarded the family of Ereck Planchard $10 million in damages after Planchard died during offseason practices. UCF fought the family in court for almost 10 years to try to reduce the damages to $200,000.
Evans has only been Maryland’s permanent athletic director since June 25 after serving as interim AD for nine months. Before that promotion, he served as the “liaison” between the football program and the university administration.
Evans, who said he has never personally witness abusive behaviors outlined in the ESPN report, deflected a question about his personal responsibility in the case of McNair’s death.
“I believe that I’m the one that can lead us through these very difficult times,” Evans said.