In a Friday night news dump, the University of Maryland released the findings of an independent investigation into the death of Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman who suffered heatstroke during team workouts. The report reaffirms that trainers contributed to McNair’s death, shedding light on how poorly athletic trainers and staff dealt with the situation McNair began experiencing symptoms, and how avoidable his death should have been.
The report outlines a 34-minute delay between when the 19-year-old started cramping up during drills, and when he was taken off the field. The time between the cramps and a 9-1-1 call was an hour and seven minutes, and it was another 32 minutes before an ambulance actually took him away. The report also showed that McNair was not placed in an ice bath, the recommended immediate treatment for exertional heatstroke, because the head athletic trainer thought drowning was a concern—a decision that might have been a major turning point for the chances of McNair’s survival.
Even with all of the procedural concerns and corrections, the report’s authors make clear that they will not hold specific staffers accountable for what happened.
This evaluation addresses specific procedures including implementation, comprehension, and compliance of established policies. This report excludes any assessment of specific personnel and consequently does not include any recommendations associated with staffing.
That’s the unfortunate kicker in all of this. The decision about who will be held responsible for the death of a teenager will ultimately fall on the powerful people who created an environment that allowed it to happen. Steve Nordwall, an athletic trainer who was placed on administrative leave in August, told Dr. Rod Walters—the lead author of the report—that he didn’t notice McNair had an elevated skin temperature. Wes Robinson, also on leave, reportedly ignored McNair’s signs of exhaustion and treated it as though he was quitting on the team, according to anonymous player interviews.
• “Contrary to what is being reported, the athlete collapsed on the field.” (Note: this complaint is of concern, due to the nature of this incident, and is taken seriously. This comment was reviewed with all staff on-site during the incident, and no-one reported collapse, though it was corroborated the student-athlete was bent over at the waist, obviously exhausted.)
• Athlete struggled following the seventh repetition.
• Scott and Billy told by Wes to move him. Also reported Wes yelled across the field to “get him the ‘fuck’ up”.
• Concerned that day when this happened as the entire staff was on the field. All athletic trainers, strength and conditioning staff, and football coaches.
• The day felt very humid.
• We engaged in a dynamic warm-up of 15 to 20 minutes.
• It was a humid day.
• Athlete was gassed after seventh repetition. He missed his last three times, and walked much of the way of the tenth repetition.
• West yelled at the interns to drag him across the field. He could barely stand but was “walked” back toward the drills. Two interns were intertwined with his legs trying to hold him up.
• The coaches preach a “no quit” mentality. No one wants to go to the Pit (area of practice for injured players administered by strength coaches). The Pit is no joke, and players avoid this at all costs.
To top it all off, head coach DJ Durkin is still employed, though currently on paid administrative leave, after hiring an athletic trainer that would throw weights at players, openly bragged about making practices harder, said “the heat makes cowards out of us all,” and helped create the “toxic” culture initially reported by ESPN and confirmed with the player’s comment about “the Pit.” A second investigation that focuses on Durkin’s behavior still being underway. Personnel decisions will be made after that concludes, according to USM Board of Regents Chair James Brady.
This report is damning, and the second investigation should be just as incriminating, if not worse. The two reports should lead to the entire system, from the coaching staff to the administration, resigning or being fired. But the school’s board of regents knows the further away they can get from the incident, the easier it will be to keep the status quo in place—that’s been the m.o. for Maryland under President Wallace Loh’s leadership. It never should have been this way, but hopefully the national attention this tragedy has attracted will lead to something positive, for the sake of McNair’s family and everyone else who plays there.
You can read the full report here: