As fall classes began this week at the University of Maryland following the death of football player Jordan McNair earlier this summer, students said they detected little to no change in the campus mood, despite the scandal swirling around the athletic program.
“It feels relatively normal, although every once in a while people have like conversations about what happened,” said Cooper Teich, a junior aerospace engineering and computer science student.
Students interviewed by Maryland Matters this week shared similar observations.
“I almost feel disappointed because I was expecting more,” Alysia Alcorn, a senior studio art major, said. “I feel like since it was swept under the rug, you know, it’s more hush-hush.”
McNair, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman, was taken to the hospital May 29 with a temperature of 106 degrees nearly an hour after he showed signs of heat exhaustion and had convulsions at an outdoor workout, ESPN reported in an investigation published Aug. 11.
University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh wrote a letter to students at the start of the semester about the death of football player Jordan McNair.
He died two weeks later of heat stroke, a condition which has a 100 percent survival rate if treated promptly and correctly.
This triggered an internal investigation into whether the university coaches and officials followed proper protocols.
The ESPN investigation of McNair’s death, which also exposed harsh treatment of players by head football coach DJ Durkin and strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, resulted in Court’s resignation.
Durkin has been placed on leave. However, many students are calling for Durkin’s firing, as well as the resignation of university President Wallace D. Loh, who waited until after the ESPN investigation was published to visit McNair’s family and say he accepted “legal and moral responsibility.”
Students said they heard about the incident from social media and national news sources, and not the university – which waited until the first day of classes to address the issue in a letter from Loh.
“As we grieved, preliminary observations from an external sports medicine expert showed that our training staff made mistakes diagnosing and treating Jordan. Upon receiving this information, we accepted legal and moral responsibility for these mistakes. We will do everything in our power to ensure that no student-athlete ever again is put in a situation where safety and life are at foreseeable risk,” Loh wrote in the letter to students.
“A press release is not an action,” Mijal Altmann, a junior philosophy and psychology student, said. “It’s something that is, that you absolutely have to do when you mess up and so I think the school should have taken, like it shouldn’t even have gotten to that point. A student shouldn’t have died on campus.”
“I mean this is ridiculous. Like a kid died because the pressure on him was so, so great to perform at such a high level and that pressure was put on him by the athletic trainers, by the coaches, and then by the president and then it’s all just a scale upwards,” she continued. “You can hand off the responsibility to the next person over but to a certain degree you just have to start looking at yourself and say like ‘what could I have done differently?’”
Jonathan Bertiz, a sophomore computer engineering student, wonders if “it was about to be brushed under the rug if it wasn’t exposed by ESPN.”
“I think that’s a bad sign for students that two years in a row, it seems like he’s trying to hide something from us,” Bertiz said, referring to the stabbing of Lt. Richard Collins on campus last May, allegedly by a white University of Maryland student, who has been charged with hate crime.
The death of two black men on campus within a year of each other has minority students worrying about their safety and treatment and wondering if the university even cares about them.
“Me being an African-American student at that, you know, I think that’s a part of the reason why I am taking it so personally, as well, because, you know, if it was a white students, things would’ve been differently,” said Alcorn, a former coworker of McNair’s brother who is working on a memorial tattoo for him. “This was basically kept under wraps and I really do feel as though there’s a difference and as a minority student, you know, it makes you think like ‘does the university really care about us?’”
Alcorn also believes that the ESPN story has shifted the conversation from McNair’s death to all the shortcomings of the university’s football team.
“I would say if McNair’s death was at the forefront of the story that the campus’ atmosphere wouldn’t be the way it is,” she said.
Sophomore journalism and information science major Amina Lampkin also suggested that the exposé has diminished the significance of McNair’s death.
“I think while the ESPN article was, it could be eye opening and it kind of shows, you know, what goes behind closed doors I guess in athletic departments. … I feel like it definitely drew a lot attention away from, you know, the McNair family,” Lampkin said.
“You don’t want his death to have been in vain,” she continued. “I think that we need to really draw the conversation back to McNair and I think, I kind of feel like that’s what the team has kind of done.”
The players announced Aug. 20 that they will honor their former teammate by wearing a helmet sticker with his number, 79, which will be worn through his graduation year, and said that he will be honored on Senior Day with his class.
The Terrapins are set to play their first game against the University of Texas on Saturday, for the first time under the leadership of interim coach Matt Canada. The game won’t be played on the College Park campus, but at FedEx Field.