Dave’s Take: Following McNair’s death, U.Md. football must do the right thing

WASHINGTON — What cannot be lost in all the allegations detailed in an ESPN report on the University of Maryland football program is that the real issue is the ultimate loss.

Nineteen-year-old Jordan McNair is dead. The Maryland offensive lineman died June 13, two weeks after a workout with the team in College Park. According to the Jordan McNair Foundation, which was set up to honor his memory, McNair died of heat stroke.

In 2001, Vikings offensive linemen Korey Stringer died of heat stroke during the team’s training camp. Since then there has been an increased awareness in the dangers of heat and football training, but a spokesperson for the Korey Stringer Institute told USA Today they still see an average of three deaths per year from heat stroke across all levels of football.

An external review is well underway into McNair’s death. But it was not until Friday, when ESPN came out with a report that referred to the culture inside Maryland football as toxic, that the school became more public and proactive.

Three members of the football staff were placed on administrative leave Friday. Then, after conducting practice on Saturday morning, head coach D.J. Durkin was also placed on administrative leave. Word of the change in Durkin’s status came in a statement from Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans.

All the carefully worded statements are not going to bring McNair back to life. Too often it seems when dealing with difficult issues, especially in college athletics, there is a web of protocol and procedure that seems to trump true clarity and conviction.

From the recent controversy surrounding Ohio State’s Urban Meyer to Penn State legend Joe Paterno, there are examples of coaches who claimed to follow the rules when dealing with serious allegations, but then failed to follow up on the results and consequences with the same zeal that brought them success when trying to win games.

The policy in college athletics needs to be: see something, say something. But then, above all, do something. There is no evidence yet that the culture in the Maryland football program led to McNair’s death, but that question must be asked.

Universities are trusted with our futures, our kids. A school’s mission and values must be consistent throughout campus and that includes the athletic department. The veil of innocence and purity in college sports has long been lifted, but human decency must remain.

Coaches and administrators will come and go, but death is permanent. In the name of Jordan McNair there has to be real change.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Korey Stringer Institute.

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

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