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The Death of Maryland's Jordan McNair is an American Tragedy That From History Shows We Have Not Learned

August 13, 2018

                                                                                        photo courtesy of



A young man's dream of playing college football tragically ended in June. No wait, scratch that. A young man's dream of living... tragically ended in June.


Look at that face. That is the face of an All-american kid. Not college football's version of an All-American—he never got the chance to achieve that honor.


He is a regular, All-american kid. Full of life, full of  hope, full of dreams. Pure joy depicted on his face. Million dollar smile, adorable gap teeth and all. 




That half-winking eye is just beckoning you to get to know him. He will be your best friend. The eyes never lie.  


I am furious I never got to know my best friend. You should be too. 


According to the University of Maryland, offensive lineman Jordan McNair completed wind sprint drills in approximately 80-degree weather on May 29. McNair was taken to the locker room and a 911 call was made after he was observed "hyperventilating." EMT called in "a male patient with a seizure." His internal body temperature was reported as 106 degrees on arrival at hospital. 


McNair was transported to Washington Adventist Hospital and died at Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, on June 13. Heat stroke was listed as the cause of death, according to the Washington Post


ESPN published a scathing article depicting the school's football program under head coach DJ Durkin as "toxic." Verbal abuse and using food as a means of punishment were some of the forms of discipline allegedly occurring under Durkin's watch. 


Durkin and Rick Court, a strength and conditioning coach, as well as a few other staffers, were placed on administrative leave while an investigation into the abuse allegations and McNair's death is underway.


Predictably, the school's story varies from some alleged eyewitness stories. Shocking, I know. 


Two current football players, some former players and staffers and some close to the program were the anonymous sources for the original ESPN story. That upset at least one Power Five football coach. 


From the Washington Post


“There’s no credibility in anonymous sources,” [South Carolina head coach Will] Muschamp said.


“If that former staffer had any guts, why didn’t he put his name on that? I think that’s gutless. And in any business and in any company and in any football team, especially right here in August, you can find a disgruntled player that’s probably not playing. So I think it’s a lack of journalistic integrity to print things with anonymous sources. But I know DJ Durkin personally. And I know what kind of man he is, and I know what kind of person he is. I talked to him this morning, and I don’t think it’s right.”


Muschamp's insinuation is that if a player complains about mistreatment, he is probably not getting enough playing time. Seriously... Muschamp said that.


Good luck with your recruiting, coach. Go Clemson. 


The more likely scenario is that several players spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation because you know... a 6-4", 325-pound teenager died while so-called professionals were watching with his safety and welfare, at least in theory,  as their top priority. 


Why poke the bear?


McNair's death was probably preventable but heat stroke itself is unpredictable. One person may not be affected by heat while another may struggle to complete tasks. But the symptoms are recognizable, even for an onlooker watching from 10-yards away. 


When a body's internal temperature reaches 104 degrees, heat stroke can occur, according to the Mayo Clinic. The symptoms are described by the clinic in detail, including rapid breathing, When an unidentified male caller from the school called 911, he allegedly told the operator that McNair was "hyperventilating after exercising and unable to control his breath."


That sounds so innocuous. It's like describing most Americans' conditions after climbing a stadium's steps to row 80, doesn't it? I hyperventilate when I see a spider.


To be fair, maybe the staff did not see what other anonymous sources saw. To be more fair, I think they did. 


McNair family attorney Bill Murphy said Jordan displayed possible signs of a seizure 45 minutes into a practice that began around 4:15 pm, according to ESPN's Heather Dinich. A 911 call was made at 5:58 pm and first responders determined that a seizure had taken place. There is an hour of unexplained actions, if Murphy's account is correct.


The school's statement, noted in Dinich's report, is controversial and open to debate. 


"At no point before or during the external review has a student-athlete, athletic trainer or coach reported a seizure occurring at 5 p.m."


What about at 5:01 pm? Or earlier? What about a doctor reporting a seizure and telling a coach? Worse, what if a coach knew he was having a seizure but did not not report it? 


All these things could be true yet do not refute the school's statement. The carefully crafted wording indicates a classic Straw Man's Defense.


EMT at the scene ascertained that a seizure had occurred. So nobody noticed?


Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is not a valid defense in a criminal matter. Ignorance can be deadly, especially when dealing with teens and young adults who think they are immortal. 


No one will die from practicing, right?


More from Dinich's report, which refutes the school's claim that McNair finished the drills:


"There's no way he finished on his own," one of the players at the workout told ESPN.


"There were multiple people that said, 'Wow, Jordan looks f---ed up, he doesn't look all right,'" the player said. "We knew he was really exhausted, but we didn't know he was in danger of his life. But that doesn't mean that a medical professional shouldn't know to put him in an ice tub."


Multiple sources said that after the 10th sprint finished, Wes Robinson, Maryland's longtime head football trainer, yelled, "Drag his ass across the field!"


A second player at the workout told ESPN: "Jordan was obviously not in control of his body. He was flopping all around. There were two trainers on either side of him bearing a lot of weight. They interlocked their legs with his in order to keep him standing."


If McNair's struggles had happened in a football stadium packed with 70,000 college football fans and live television cameras, would he have been walked around for 80 yards, with a coach yelling to have his ass dragged across a field?


Or would a medical staff have sprinted toward the field and administered first aid while awaiting medical transport?


We all know the answer to that.


When it comes to a player down on the field, good optics are essential for fans cheering on unpaid student-athletes. 


Practices may be held to a different standard. What we see on the field may be a gussied up, cleaned up, politically correct version of what really goes on at some schools. 


It is sickening. 


Seven years ago, the University of Central Florida's Athletic Association was found guilty of negligence in the death of player Erech Plancher. We hoped we would never have to report on a player's heat-related death again. We assumed it would never happen again. 


Last year Kent State's Tyler Heintz died of an exertional heat stroke following a June conditional drill workout.


Apparently, we haven't learned a damn thing.


America is losing its best friends. 



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