For many students at the University of Maryland, the school’s response to the death of football player Jordan McNair came as no surprise. For some, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. With all the political squabbling over who should or should not have been held accountable, students have been some of McNair’s biggest advocates.
Several prominent figures in the state have criticized university officials’ handling of McNair’s death, including Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D), NFL star and former Terp Torrey Smith. All expressed shock and concern about the university’s decision to reinstate head football coach DJ Durkin on Tuesday after the University System of Maryland Board of Regents recommended he return to coaching. University President Wallace D. Loh announced his resignation that same day in what has been called a “forced resignation” by some faculty members, for advocating to the Board of Regents that Durkin should be fired.
After 24 hours of public outrage, celebrity influence and a social media firestorm, Durkin was fired by Loh. What didn’t make national headlines was the influence university students had on the decision to fire Durkin and how for the first time in a long time, they felt heard by their school.
The Student Government Association was one of the most active participants in the fight against Durkin’s reinstatement and sent representatives to meet with Loh on Wednesday. The SGA along with many other campus organizations participated in a protest on campus Thursday demanding justice for McNair.
The protest was organized before Durkin was fired and was originally meant to demand his departure. He was fired Wednesday night before the protest, which did not seem to weaken the turnout as hundreds of students descended onto McKeldin Mall for McNair, determined to keep his memory brighter than the politics stealing the spotlight.
Jack Goldstein, a junior and public health science major at the University of Maryland, said the school treated McNair’s death as if he had died in a car accident and not in the aftermath of a team practice. When the university announced that Durkin was being reinstated and that Loh was departing, Goldstein felt there were ulterior motives involved.
Goldstein said Durkin’s reinstatement showed the country that “this university values money from its donors more than the well-being of its students.” Goldstein said he thinks Durkin should be held responsible for McNair’s death, regardless of whether he was present when McNair experienced a heat stroke after finishing a set of 110-yard sprints. The Board of Regents investigation found 90 minutes elapsed before he was transported for medical treatment.
The Board of Regents oversaw the investigation into the “toxic culture” of Maryland football after an incriminating ESPN article detailed an abusive, intimidating environment for the players. The board is made up of 17 members appointed by the governor, who serve five-year terms, and just one student member, who is appointed for a one-year term. This one student can come from any of the schools in the University of Maryland System and is tasked with representing students statewide.
Ben Gorski, a junior and economics major at UMD, remains confused as to why the Board of Regents was able to have so much influence over the investigation and until recently didn’t know who the members were.
Despite the Regents’ determination that there is no “toxic culture” in Maryland football, Gorski said he is pleased that Durkin was fired and is even more pleased that President Loh is resigning. Gorski spent a year as an employee at the Tell-A-Terp call center where he spent hours talking to alumni, and recognized a trend in the university’s handling of minority deaths on-campus.
Gorski said this reminded him of his freshman year, when Lt. Richard Collins was killed at an on-campus bus stop and the university, in his view, failed to take measures to combat racism at UMD. Gorski said the reinstatement of Durkin was one of many decisions the administration has made in recent years that don’t serve the best interest of the students.
The University of Maryland is still working on a $196 million renovation to Cole Field House as an indoor football field and center for sports medicine. Freshmen students pass the gigantic construction project every day on their way back to the south campus dorms where they reside in bedrooms with no air conditioning – and many were evacuated to local hotels in early October after black mold was found in 10 different halls.
Gorski said he thinks these past few days have made it clear to students there are problems with the way the university is governed – and that need to be addressed.
For Shaina Levin, senior and family science major, she assumed Durkin would be fired immediately after McNair’s death. As a huge fan of Maryland football, Levin drowns herself in red, black and gold by 9 a.m. on the morning of every home game. She said this Saturday, one of her last home games as a Terp, will be different.
Levin said the University’s hesitation to fire Durkin after an already lengthy investigation into the death of a player at football practice was blatantly disrespectful to McNair’s family.
“As a Terp, I am truly embarrassed,” she said.
Lucy Taylor, a junior theatre major at UMD, was particularly upset by the neglect she feels led to the death of a football player from apparent heat stroke after practice.
“When someone dies from football practice, there is clearly a problem with the way things are being overseen,” Taylor said.
Jack Goldstein played football as a child and all throughout high school and is familiar with the physical exhaustion athletes endure at practice.
“Athletes at all levels are taught to give full effort at everything they do,” Goldstein explained. “I’ve seen players throwing up on the side of the field or have to sit out for a few minutes until they are able to rejoin activities.”
What concerns him the most, however, is what compelled McNair to push past his physical limits, far enough to induce heat stroke. Goldstein said he believes the reports alleging a “toxic culture,” and thinks that football players were being berated and humiliated when their full effort wasn’t enough.
“It is very likely that [McNair] was afraid of what might happen if the coaches saw he didn’t meet their expectations,” he said.