In response to reports that he had been warned of abuse in the University of Maryland’s football program more than a year and a half before media reports of a toxic team culture, President Wallace Loh denied receiving a hand-delivered letter, but said he did get an anonymous email.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the mother of a former Maryland football player said she hand-delivered a letter detailing abuse in the football program to the university president’s office in December 2016. Among her claims was that coach DJ Durkin and his staff “psychologically, physically, and emotionally abuse[d]” their players.
Following the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair — who suffered fatal heatstroke at a football team workout in May — ESPN reported on a “toxic” culture in the school’s football program, with several players and parents expressing sentiments similar to those in the letter.
ESPN’s reports spurred the university to form a commission, now controlled by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, to investigate the football program’s culture. The investigation was expected to finish by early October, although new allegations have the potential to stall the report’s release.
Loh said in an interview with The Diamondback on Wednesday that he had “not gotten any hand-delivered letter.” But he said he did receive an anonymous email, which was passed on to the commission.
“All the information that we have, on anything having to do with this, was all presented to the commission for them to do their due diligence,” Loh said.
Loh “instructed a member of his staff” to forward it to Kevin Anderson, the university’s athletic director at the time, university spokesperson Katie Lawson said in a statement. Standard practice is not to respond to anonymous senders, she added.
“When this email was initially raised two years later, the President did not recall it,” the statement read.
The player’s mother told the Post that she’d emailed the letter, which wasn’t signed, to Anderson and other athletic department officials. The letter accused Durkin of “orchestrating valorous suffering” on his players and foresaw a possible lawsuit against the university.
“Are any of you aware or do you even care about the number of student athletes suffering from severe emotional distress because of the abusive actions of Coach Durkin?” the letter read, according to the Post. “His actions are extreme and outrageous; intentional and reckless, and the sole cause of the emotional distress.”
On Tuesday, Loh said at a University Senate meeting that he had “never ever heard that there was abuse of that sort at Maryland.”
Loh did not say when he received the email, or whether it had been provided to the commission before or after the Post’s reports on Sunday. He said “it would not be appropriate” for him to discuss the specifics of what he’s given the commission.
“Let’s just say that all the information they wanted, I’ve provided them, and I cannot be disclosing the methods of the commission, other than to say it isn’t like a one-time request,” Loh said. “I can talk about [the] Rod Walters [report] because that is done. When he was soliciting information, it wasn’t just a one-time thing. … It is an ongoing process. And I think that is true for any investigative commission.”
The Post report added further detail to ESPN’s description of a toxic team culture. A former player’s mother told the Post that Durkin was “a psychopath who thinks he is more powerful than God.”
“These are very serious allegations, they deserve to be investigated. That’s why we set up this elaborate process,” Loh said. “It’s my job to make sure that when these very serious allegations are raised — whether somebody’s a psychopath, or whatever … that there is a process independent of the university to investigate.”
Durkin and three other staffers — strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, athletic training director Steve Nordwall and head football athletic trainer Wes Robinson — were placed on administrative leave in August following ESPN’s reports. Shortly after, Court parted ways with the university.
Loh, a former prosecutor, stressed that administrative leave is a procedural standard and does not indicate guilt. He emphasized the need for due process.
“I have no idea what the report will be. I’m as eager as you are in seeing what that report says,” he said. “Horrific as these allegations may be, you presume somebody is innocent until the process is over.”