Opinion: Maryland's Mistakes Inexcusable

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Copyright 2018 The Washington Times
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The Washington Times


The dictionary has a new picture next to the word "inexcusable."

It's a turtle on its hind legs clutching a red 'M' to its chest under a University of Maryland banner.

As it turns out, the identical image appears in three other places in the dictionary: alongside the definition of indefensible, reprehensible and unjustifiable.

Mistakes happen. But the circumstances of 19-year-old Jordan McNair's death can't be dismissed with a simple "my bad." Maryland's football staff betrayed the former offensive lineman so blatantly, it seems almost willful.

No, I don't believe the team officials present at McNair's fateful May 29 workout wanted him to die. I suspect that coach DJ Durkin, former strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, head athletic trainer Wes Robinson and other staffers on hand would claim they loved McNair like a son, because a football team is family.

But their inaction before, during and after McNair's final team activity tells a different story.

It says they, literally, couldn't care less.

We're talking about the most basic expression of concern. They could've demonstrated that bare minimum by ensuring that a few simple items were on hand.

Water. Ice. And a 300-gallon Rubbermaid tub.

Having those items in place during a preseason practice likely saved the life of a Towson University lineman five years ago this month. When Gavin Class began struggling and collapsed during a series of sprints, Towson's staff sprang into action.

They called 911 immediately and carried him several yards to one of four cold tubs they keep on hand. Paramedics arrived after 10 minutes and transported him to the hospital, where his temperature was recorded at 108 degrees.

Doctors said it certainly must've been higher before he was immersed in cold water and he probably wouldn't have survived otherwise.

Contrast that rapid response with Maryland's sluggish reaction when McNair showed signs of distress.

The 911 call wasn't made promptly, perhaps nearly an hour late. The cold-water immersion didn't happen at all. McNair's temperature reportedly was 106 degrees when he arrived at the hospital and he died two weeks later.

Health experts armed with a significant amount of data suggest that such deaths are unnecessary and avoidable. There's a consensus that heatstroke is "100 percent survivable when it is treated aggressively and appropriately," Rebecca Stearns told USA Today.

Stearns is the COO of Korey Stringer Foundation, an organization named after the Minnesota Vikings lineman whose 2001 death led to increased awareness on the dangers of heatstroke, especially during summer football conditioning. The Korey Stringer Institute helped write the heatstroke section in the NCAA's sports medicine handbook.

"A delay in treatment can be fatal," the handbook warns. It advises that training staffs should have an emergency action plan that includes "immediate cooling of the body with cold water immersion."

The National Athletic Trainers' Association has a list of recommendations on addressing exertional heat illnesses. "Aggressive and immediate whole-body cooling is the key to optimizing treatment," according to the task force, adding that cold-water immersion "should be initiated within minutes post-incident."

Towson's staff knew that and acted accordingly.

Maryland's staff?

"Some of our policies and protocols do not conform to best practices," Maryland president Wallace D. Loh said Tuesday at a news conference. "Our athletic training staff basically misdiagnosed the situation. No vital signs were taken; other safeguard measures that should've been taken were not."

How does that happen in 2018 at a supposedly world-class university? Did the staff know the best practices and disregard them? Or were the best practices ignored because the staff was unaware of them?

Whatever the answer, it's untenable.

Court resigned before he could be fired. Robinson and an assistant trainer remain on administrative leave, but they can't return. Neither can Durkin, who previously claimed to be in lockstep with Court.

Athletic director Damon Evans might keep his job, but there's a good argument for putting him on administrative leave before giving him the boot, too. He's been on campus since 2014, served as the administration's liaison to the football program and was named interim AD in October 2016.

"I believe I'm the one to lead us through this very difficult time," Evans said at Tuesday's news conference.

Someone has to do it.

If Evans survives, he better ensure that the next coach is concerned enough to shun trainers who are incompetent, at best, or immoral, at worst.

McNair paid the ultimate price for the current regime's incomprehensible indifference.

Not another Maryland athlete should suffer that fate ever again.

Loh and Evans can apologize to McNair's parents until the end of time.

But there's no excuse for what happened.

There's just a whole lot of shame.

• Deron Snyder writes his column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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August 16, 2018


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