In the wake of the Jordan McNair tragedy, is Damon Evans, the athletic director at College Park, getting a free pass?
I make no pretense about being an investigative reporter. I swim in the waters of offering opinions on things, and usually those things do not involve the death of a player.
This story, the unnecessary death of 19-year-old Jordan McNair, an offensive lineman on the University of Maryland football team, is as different as it is difficult. It’s still hard to wrap our arms around why the team’s training and medical staff failed to accurately diagnose the severity of Jordan’s condition, even failing to monitor his body temperature, which allowed him to reach 106 degrees without ever placing him in an ice water immersion tank.
McNair’s tragic day on the football field was back on May 29. He would succumb from the effects of heatstroke 15 days later, on June 13.
Between Jordan’s death and the press conference held by Dr. Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland, College Park, on Aug. 14 to publicly discuss for the first time the events surrounding McNair’s tragic death — the only major piece of business I can see that the University of Maryland’s athletic department was to make official was the elevation of Damon Evans to be the school’s athletic director to replace Kevin Anderson, who was put on administrative leave some six months earlier.
It wouldn’t be until the presser held on Aug. 14 that the school and the athletic department would publicly deal with what went on way back on May 29. At this press conference, Dr. Loh took the unusual tact of admitting that Jordan McNair’s death was the fault of the training and medical staff.
Dr. Loh would also announce that he was creating two separate panels — the first for the University of Maryland Board of Regents to investigate the events surrounding McNair’s death, while a second panel would investigate charges brought about by ESPN’s reporting of a “toxic culture” within the football program.
Damon Evans, the new athletic director, announced on Aug. 14 that the team’s strength and conditioning coach, Rick Court, was being terminated, and that head coach D.J. Durkin would be placed on administrative leave while these two reports were finished.
Finally, in late October, news leaked about the reports stopping short of calling the culture toxic, which seemed to be paving the way for Durkin’s improbable return to the sidelines at College Park.
On Oct. 30, James Brady, head of the Board of Regents, publicly announced that while they found Durkin guilty of failing to adequately supervise Court, they were not recommending Durkin’s termination. At the same press conference, it was also announced that Loh would resign in June 2019
The announcement by Brady was met with a fast and furious reaction in College Park. The reaction was so negative that less than 24 hours later, Dr. Loh announced that there was an about-face, and that Durkin would be immediately terminated.
That same day, Gov. Larry Hogan accepted the resignation of Brady. To be blunt, it seems that Hogan may have been so incensed over the board’s public pronouncement that Durkin would stay on that he may have called Dr. Loh and ordered the firing of Durkin, while offering up his choice to head the regents. Linda Gooden was named chairwoman of the Board of Regents.
As one of the Terps players said on Twitter, “It’s Never Too Late to do the Right Thing.” Following that line of reasoning, the school announced the week of Nov. 5 that two football trainers, Steve Nordwall and Wes Robinson, who worked with Jordan McNair on May 29, had been on paid administrative leave.
What I find fascinating is that as the dust seems to settle at College Park, the head of the Board of Regents is gone, the school president is out in June, the head football coach has been terminated, the strength and conditioning coach has resigned is out, and the two trainers deemed most responsible for the death of Jordan McNair are gone.
That leaves one man, Damon Evans, still standing, and this writer is left scratching his head. I’ll go backward again to say that perhaps the most jarring decision of all at College Park was to choose June 25, just 12 days after the death of Jordan McNair, to elevate Damon Evans to the position of athletic director.
If he wasn’t aware of the problems inherent in the football program — toxic or not — he has to be incompetent in the job. And worse, if he knew the culture was bad, and did nothing to change it, why should any parent feel comfortable sending their son or daughter to play on one of the teams that represent the University of Maryland, College Park?
Stan “The Fan” Charles is founder and publisher of PressBox.