ESPN’s bombshell report of the “toxic culture” initiated and carried out at the University of Maryland by head coach DJ Durkin and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court exposed the most wretched — and fatal — arcane underbelly of not just college football, but sports, after detailing that coaching practices were the likely result of the death of a promising young man – 19-year-old Jordan McNair.
Under the guise of “tough love” to mold young men into the mentally tough thoroughbreds required to compete in the Big Ten, Durkin and Court allegedly commit traumatic breaches of trust on a regular basis.
A few quick hits from the ESPN report, mainly shared by anonymous players:
- “a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation.”
- “the belittling, humiliation and embarrassment of players is common.”
- “extreme verbal abuse of players occurs often.”
- “coaches endorsed unhealthy eating and used food punitively,” one player was “forced to overeat” until he vomited.
McNair died of a heat stroke some two weeks after he was rushed to the hospital with a body temperature of 106. He collapsed following 110-yard sprints with signs of extreme exhaustion and an inability to stand upright.
A former staff member said, “[I] would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there.” The inhumane tactics inflicted on players are enough to restrict his children from the program, but they obviously didn’t move him to helping Maryland’s 85 scholarship athletes.
College programs are far too often allowed to run under the paranoid sense of secrecy. Public institutions are easily able to hide information — they restrict what press can and can’t access — thus allowing for the creation of destructive, dangerous environments that are hidden from the public eye.
The NCAA is nowhere to be found, either. They claim their main concerns are the student athlete, but they aren’t. Their main concern is the same that it always has been: revenue.
Penn State hid a sex-abuse scandal. So did Michigan State, Baylor and USC. Now, practices at Maryland have caused a young man to lose his life.
Jordan McNair’s mother will never again get to watch him take the field and play the game he loves. Jordan was 19; he had a life ahead of him and there were ample flashes of the good to come both on and off the field.
Instead, McNair’s gone from the earth, and his family’s life, too soon, while those who claimed responsibility for his well-being claim lump-sum payments and paid administrative leave. Most importantly, Court, Durkin and the rest of the Maryland coaching staff get to keep blood pumping through their veins. They keep the ability to breathe in the air of a beautiful fall day, smell the fragrances of a budding spring and shake off the cold fingers of winter. Several will probably never coach again, but they get their lives. Jordan doesn’t.
Maryland will take responsibility and try to handle the issue – they’ll eventually fire Durkin and they have already fired Court. And then, if history is of any indication, the fatal scandal will sit on a backburner, fading just enough to where no one really talks about it.
The “tough love” that went too far will be treated as a cautionary tale in an attempt to paint a narrative that there’s a “fine line” between toughening a team for the regular season and becoming a brutal dictator in your program.
The fine line is — pardon my French — an abhorrent load of horseshit. There’s no close call between toughening up a player or running them to the point of dying from heatstroke. The human body isn’t some machine to push endlessly. It needs proper rest, care and nutrition – following these tenants will breed far greater rewards than running a body into the ground.
I hope like hell I’m wrong about this scandal. That the loss of a life will spark sweeping and dramatic change across the sporting world. But if history is any indication, the norm will win out: the “tough” coaches who bring success to their programs will continue to not be questioned, and the cautionary tale of Jordan McNair will just be that – a tale, not the wholly-avoidable calamity that cost the life of a promising young man.