Jordan McNair and Maryland: The New View of Sports
November 15, 2018
Football has long been a controversial sport due to its high frequency of serious injuries and the long-lasting effects that those injuries have on players. From traumatic brain injuries to back injuries to joint pain, former football players, especially in recent years, have been reporting more and more health issues that can be directly linked to their football careers. However, none of those persistent injuries rival the severity and impact of dying, and that was unfortunately brought into the spotlight this summer.
19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair, a redshirt freshmen at Maryland, was going through an offseason conditioning practice at the Maryland outdoor practice field. As he struggled through the last few sprints, McNair began to bend over at the waist and reported cramps. 34 minutes later, he was taken off the field and into the locker room where his condition worsened, as he began to show signs of heatstroke. A seizure ensued, and almost an hour after he first began to show some symptoms, an ambulance arrived. Weeks later, McNair died in the hospital, unofficially due to heatstroke.
An investigation into the cause of his death followed, and the results were disturbing. The amount of time that the training staff took to assist McNair (nearly an hour) was just unacceptable, and the methods they used were inadequate according to the findings of athletic training consultant Rod Walters. It was reported that his core temperature was never assessed, and the staff elected not to treat McNair with a cold whirlpool to stabilize his body temperature due to a fear that he would drown. They instead used drinking water, ice packs and cold towels to cool down a 341 lb. 19-year-old in the midst of an intense heatstroke.
Following the investigation into McNair’s death, new details emerged about the program. A little digging revealed that current and former players and staff believed the Maryland football program to have a “toxic” culture that saw coaches constantly belittle and embarrass players. One report stated that a player was ridiculed for passing out, one was forced to overeat to the point of vomiting, while another, who had reported in overweight, was forced to eat candy bars while other players worked out.
Former players have come out stating that the Maryland culture “ruined their love for the game” and family members have been left in distraught, as one mother reported that her sons saw it as “living through hell.”
Maryland head coach DJ Durkin, along with three other members of the Maryland coaching staff, were placed on administrative leave on August 11th. Then, on October 30th, the school announced that the head coach would be reinstated to the program. This led to a plethora of backlash that saw riots planned and the McNair’s father describing the reinstatement as “being punched in the stomach and spit in my face.” A day later, facing no other possible decision with the outcry of disapproval they faced, Maryland decided to fire DJ Durkin, thus ending his reign over the program. On November 8th, two of the trainers who treated McNair were fired as well.
The unsettling details of the Maryland football program are considered inhumane by many, but a few former players, coaches, and those close to football programs have come out and stated that some of this behavior by the coaches (obviously not to the point of driving a player to a heat stroke) is commonplace in college football and is needed at this level of competition.
This situation begs the question: Where should the line be drawn between pushing players to their limits without going too far, not only in college football but with sports in general? And, is this type of “tough love” really necessary and just morally right for these kids.
Alan Gordon, head coach of Milton’s varsity boys’ lacrosse program and coach of the freshmen football team, provided his take on these points. Gordon stated that the Maryland situation “wakes you up and reminds everybody of the dangers of sports, somewhat like how the Parkland tragedy re-emphasized school security.”
Through his 29 years of coaching football, Gordon has also learned that “when a kid says they don’t feel good, it always has to be taken seriously.”
In regards to the fine line between tough love and respect that a coach must walk, Gordon says, “A coach has to have a different scale for each kid. One player may be needed to be treated completely from another. A coach must know how to motivate their team and what methods work, or what “buttons to push.”
It is expected that programs across the country will now be changing some of their habits and adding in more precautions with workouts, but the view of player-coach relationships, from the high school level all the way to the pros, and sports as a whole will now be under even closer inspection due to the tragic passing of Jordan McNair.