New Maryland law aimed at ‘team culture’ to help protect college athletes

A bill designed to protect the health and safety of college athletes has been signed into law in Maryland.

State Del. Shelly Hettleman said the bill was a direct result of the “unfortunate and tragic death” of Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old University of Maryland athlete from Randallstown, Maryland. McNair was an offensive lineman at the College Park campus who collapsed after a preseason conditioning drill and later died last year.

Investigations found that there was a delay of more than an hour before 911 was called to attend to the freshman football player. McNair’s death led to calls for changes at the University of Maryland.

Hettleman said House Bill 876 “requires each higher education institution in Maryland to develop a system whereby their student-athletes can express concerns about what is happening on their team to somebody outside of the athletic department.” 

The bill is intended to deal with “team culture,” Hettleman said. After McNair’s death, ESPN had reported on what it called a “toxic culture” inside the University of Maryland’s athletic department where athletes were bullied and belittled.

There was little pushback against the bill, Hettleman added. She said that though the legislation was being worked up during the Maryland General Assembly session, lawmakers discovered some universities already had a process in place where athletes can take their concerns.

“For example, Towson University came and testified in support of the bill because they have a process already in place that’s pretty effective,” Hettleman said.

“We just want to make sure that the students can be safe, and that they can tell an adult, and that they can do so outside of their team” when they feel a problem needs attention, Hettleman said.

The bill signed into law Monday applies to all college athletes in every sport, not just football.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan reported from Annapolis, Maryland.

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