Justice For University Of Maryland Football Player Jordan McNair
Published on November 01, 2018
I had just sat down to write on the tragic death of the University of Maryland (UMD) football player Jordan McNair, when I noticed on the ESPN ticker tape that UMD President Wallace Loh had shown courage and fortitude and fired Head Football Coach DJ Durkin. That's a good start. It's not enough.
In 1977, I reported to the US Federal Building in Pittsburgh and enlisted in the United States Army, going into Armor Branch. I knew full well that signing on the dotted line meant that someday I could be thrust into harm's way. I don't think 19-year-old Jordan McNair had the same understanding when he decided to play football at UMD.
I'm certain that when McNair signed his letter of intent with the University of Maryland to play college football that the only danger he expected would come his way would be a 300-pound defensive lineman. Certainly, he did not expect the abuse of Maryland's strength and conditioning coach, Rick Court, which led to McNair's tragic death.
On May 19, 2018, offensive lineman McNair suffered heat stroke during a preseason workout - something that could and should have been avoided. Unfortunately, that's not the way Mr. Court operates; instead he pushed this young man beyond his limits and then left him struggling for life in the hands of an (apparently) incompetent training staff.
What happened to McNair was the inevitable result of Court's conduct. According to the investigative report prepared following McNair's death, Court "was regularly abusive toward his players" and "effectively, accountable to no one." He fostered a toxic team environment, made a habit of pushing players past their physical limits and embarrassing and degrading them and, according to the report, "throwing food, weights, and on one occasion a trash can full of vomit."
Court regularly abused players struggling in workouts, using profane and abusive language. In January 2016, Court came up behind a player lifting weights, said "come on, mother---er" and "pressed the weight bar into the player's neck, choking him," according to the player's mother and two athletes who were there. According to the investigative report into McNair's death, the player in question was recovering from surgery at the time. A former player told investigators that Court told another athlete on one occasion he was a "waste of life," adding that "you should just f---ing kill yourself."
Look, I'm as old school as it gets. I grew up in sports. I played and coached. I go back to the day when we would say "rub dirt on it" and it will be fine and didn't take water breaks until practice was over, and I can honestly say both were stupid. The better you take care of your body the better you perform. I would run through a brick wall for my coach. Yet, as a coach I would never put my players through anything that would harm them. Yes, we worked hard on conditioning, but this strength and conditioning coach Rick Court crossed the line. Repeatedly.
I have read comments from UMD fans that support head coach DJ Durkin. Come on. A young man died on his watch. The head coach and the strength and conditioning coach were both present when this happened. Durkin hired Court, and as head coach he was responsible for everything that happened on his team.
McNair collapsed during 110-yard wind sprints conducted in heat and humidity on the first day of practice. People present reported that he had a full-blown seizure. Yet, it was almost 40 minutes before he was even taken off the field. No assessment of his vital signs was done. No apparatus was used to cool him down. EMS was not called for one hour and seven minutes. When McNair arrived at the hospital almost two hours after the onset of his symptoms, his body temperature was 106 degrees. He died two weeks later.
Four months down the road, after a full investigation, the Board of Regents, ignoring all of this, voted to reinstate Head Coach Durkin. That's egregious. Only the courageous decision of President Wallace Loh, acting on his own, prevented a complete miscarriage of justice. This, after Loh had in effect been told by the Board, "Durkin stays, if you can't fall in line with our decision, we will find someone who will."
Durkin is gone. Strength and conditioning coach Court quit of his own volition. Now it's time to clean house. In my opinion, Governor Hogan should seek the dismissal or resignation of all the members of the Board of Regents of the University of Maryland and Athletic Director Damon Evans. This was a tragic death that could have been avoided. This is an institution of higher learning. Coaches are responsible for the lives of the men and women in their care. That these coaches disregarded that responsibility is inexcusable. That the Board did not care is unthinkable.
As a coach you can walk softly and carry a big stick, but you should remember always that you can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. The NCAA talks about being a nonprofit organization and being dedicated to the betterment of its student athletes. It seems to me that it is now turning its back on McNair and his entire family. It's amazing that in the eighties the NCAA gave the Southern Methodist University football program the "death penalty" for cheating and yet is nowhere to be found when it comes to the death of a young man.
Editors' note: The views represented in this article are the opinions of the author.