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Maryland Settles Lawsuit Over Heatstroke Death

Andy Berg

The University of Maryland has agreed to settle a lawsuit with the family of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died two years ago of heatstroke during a football workout.

Marty McNair and Tonya Wilson, Jordan’s parents, will receive $3.5 million once the settlement has been approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works.

"This has been a long and painful fight, but we will attempt to find closure even though this is a wound that will never, ever fully heal," Marty McNair and Tonya Wilson said in a joint statement issued by their attorney that was reported by ESPN. "We are focused on honoring Jordan's legacy so that his death was not in vain. This includes protecting student athletes of all levels of competition, increasing awareness, education, and prevention of all heat related illnesses, empowering student athletes, and introducing legislation nationwide so that no parent should have to wait this long for closure where their child has been treated unfairly or unjustly."

Related: Report: Athletic Training Mistakes Made in McNair Case

Maryland law limits payments to $400,000, so the case was heard in federal court, where the burden of proof is much higher.

Jordan McNair collapsed at a practice on May 29, 2018. It was the first practice of his sophomore season. He died two weeks later.  

In an ESPN report in August 2018, players and people close to the Terrapins program described a culture of fear and intimidation under former coach DJ Durkin and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court.

Related: The Athletic Business Podcast: Beating the Heat with Doctor Doug Casa of the Corey Stringer Institute 

Findings of an investigation found that Maryland’s athletic training staff failed to quickly diagnose and properly treat McNair’s heatstroke symptoms, which resulted in Durkin’s termination.

"How was I so trusting of these coaches who sat at our table before signing day promising to treat him as one of their own?" Marty McNair wrote in his recently published book, "Can My Child Play?" "These same coaches who didn't have the integrity to call us and tell us Jordan got hurt on the first day of conditioning drills. The same coach that didn't ride in the ambulance to the hospital with our son, after promising us that he'd protect him.

"I made the wrong decision about who to trust with the thing that mattered most to me in the world."

On August 14, Maryland president Wallace D. Loh and athletic director Damon Evans held a joint news conference to announce preliminary finding of the investigation into Jordan’s death. On that day, Loh publicly conceded guilt.

"The university accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made," he said.

Rod Walters, a sports medicine consultant who was part of the investigation, would later say in court, “There was a failure to identify escalating symptoms associated with exertional heat illness, including assessing vital signs, identifying the condition and aggressively treating the patient's elevated core temperature. No apparatus was used for prompt cooling of the patient."

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