Yesterday ESPN published an exposé on the environment in and around Maryland football under current head coach, DJ Durkin. Immediately after the story came out Maryland announced that several unnamed Maryland football staff had been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an external investigation that’s been ongoing in the wake of the death of Jordan McNair following a workout in May.
Some of the assertions made in the article:
There is a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation. In one example, a player holding a meal while in a meeting had the meal slapped out of his hands in front of the team. At other times, small weights and other objects were thrown in the direction of players when Court was angry.
The belittling, humiliation and embarrassment of players is common. In one example, a player whom coaches wanted to lose weight was forced to eat candy bars as he was made to watch teammates working out.
Extreme verbal abuse of players occurs often. Players are routinely the targets of obscenity-laced epithets meant to mock their masculinity when they are unable to complete a workout or weight lift, for example. One player was belittled verbally after passing out during a drill.
Coaches have endorsed unhealthy eating habits and used food punitively; for example, a player said he was forced to overeat or eat to the point of vomiting.
The article also implicates the external review that is going on:
Players had to return early from their time off to meet with investigators on Aug. 1, two days before the first preseason workout. A sign-up sheet was posted on the office door of Jason Baisden, the team’s assistant athletic director for football operations and equipment. Meetings took place in the offensive staff’s meeting room in the Gossett Football Team House.
”They tried to interview players at the most inconvenient time, in Gossett, basically right in front of Durkin’s office,” one of the current players said.
Though there may be some among us who are especially skeptical of any report from ESPN, please do not just accuse the messenger and read the article. This information comes directly from players who saw these things first-hand.
This seems rather credible and is about the worst case scenario. Former football players may read these reports and think to themselves ‘well, yeah, sounds like a typical summer conditioning day.’ But this portrayal of the Maryland staff’s attitude towards player safety lets loose a giant plume of smoke around the possibility that Jordan McNair’s death was more than preventable, possibly worse, even, than simple negligence, but instead a product of systematic mistreatment.
And even if McNair’s tragic death had never occurred, society’s view on appropriate treatment of young athletes has evolved. There was never any accusation that former Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice physically hurt any of his players, but revelations of comparable mistreatment led to his ouster. The accusations against Durkin’s make the ordeal with Tim Beckman at Illinois or Kevin Wilson at Indiana pale in comparison.
Maryland did issue a statement in response to the ESPN piece:
“The alleged behaviors raised in the ESPN story are troubling and not consistent with our approach to the coaching and development of our student athletes. Such allegations do not reflect the culture of our program. We are committed to swiftly examining and addressing any such reports when they are brought to our attention.”
Multiple Maryland football staffers have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the school’s external review, but given the statements being made about that review - that it has really taken place under the watch of the football staff - it would be surprising at this point if that report puts all of these issues to bed.
Update: Maryland has updated their story to state that Wes Robinson (head trainer), Rick Court (strength and conditioning coach), and Steve Nordwall (Director of Training) have been placed on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation. It would be surprising if any of the three retain their job, let alone obtain another job in coaching again given the allegations against them.