Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Despite criticism, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh has maintained he has handled the scandal surrounding Maryland football appropriately and transparently. Recent revelations about when he became aware of the abuse of players, however, leave the impression that he simply lacked concern about the toxicity of the program.
Loh’s recent comments have been vague, and at best, contradictory. On Tuesday, when discussing reports of the abusive culture cultivated by head coach DJ Durkin, Loh said, “I had never ever heard that there was abuse of that sort at Maryland. As soon as I heard about it, I formed a commission to look into it.” He even pointed to his thousands of Twitter followers and his regular interactions with students, as if that proved he dealt with the reports as soon as he heard about them.
But it turns out Loh didn’t need any of those Twitter followers to learn about abuse of football players. According to The Washington Post, an anonymous mother of a Maryland football player sent an email to Loh’s office in 2016 detailing psychological and physical abuse by coaches; it was also sent to then-athletic director Kevin Anderson and other staff. One day after denying he’d heard about the abuse, Loh himself confirmed that he received this message, and a university spokesperson said Loh made sure it was forwarded to Anderson.
Of course, the president of a major university — especially one with as many students and alumni as ours — must receive countless emails and concerns. But this one was clearly received and taken somewhat seriously, as evidenced by the fact that it went to Anderson. Given the events that later transpired, it’s troubling that the email didn’t get a second look until now.
As for the culture of the program in general, The Washington Post reported in September that Loh said “a hyper-masculine and insular culture is the norm rather than the exception” in college football. He is aware of the aggressive disposition of many college football teams, and he must have known Durkin was specifically famous for his intensity well before the scandal broke.
Loh knew that football programs can foster toxic environments. He knew that his own program was led by a particularly intense coach. He was made aware of allegations of abuse years before. Yet when a player died of a condition that is 100 percent survivable when treated properly according to medical experts, alarm bells were apparently not going off in his head. Only when ESPN published its damning report on the culture of Maryland football did the administration take responsibility by moving to investigate the incident and the broader culture of the team.
The pernicious culture of this university’s football program could have been reformed years ago. Given what we know about the circumstances of McNair’s final workout — coaches had created a culture where players felt they had to push themselves beyond their physical limits — perhaps that reform would have prevented his death. We don’t know for sure what actions Loh took after receiving the email; we do know for sure that those actions weren’t enough.
As the anonymous email sent to Loh read, “do you even care about the number of student athletes suffering from severe emotional distress because of the abusive actions of Coach Durkin?” If Loh does care more about the safety of Maryland’s student-athletes than protecting himself and the reputation of the school, he has done a poor job of demonstrating it so far.
Zachary Jablow is a sophomore economics and government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.