Maryland’s Board of Public Works approved the payment of a $3.5 million settlement from the University of Maryland to the family of Jordan McNair on Wednesday, almost 2 1/2 years after then-university President Wallace Loh said the school accepted moral and legal responsibility for the football player’s death.
At the meeting, Gov. Larry Hogan expressed hope that the settlement would bring “some measure of relief, some sense of justice and some measure of closure” for McNair’s family.
“No parent should have to experience the unspeakable agony that Tonya Wilson and Marty McNair have been through,” Hogan said.
McNair died in June 2018, two weeks after suffering heatstroke at a team workout on the campus. An independent investigation later found that university athletic trainers had failed to recognize and properly treat the 19-year-old’s symptoms in time and that they had waited an hour after the onset of his symptoms to call 911. When quickly treated with cold water immersion, heatstroke has a 100 percent survival rate.
A separate investigation into the football program by the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents found that a lack of oversight and accountability had enabled an abusive environment to proliferate, and that many players feared speaking out about it. The resulting report placed the blame for the program’s culture on Loh, then-head coach DJ Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans, who remains in this role.
Greenbelt Mayor Colin Byrd, a University of Maryland alumnus, also joined the meeting Wednesday to voice support for the settlement and give voice to the injustice of McNair’s death. As one of the top offensive linemen in the nation, McNair received offers from a number of universities, Byrd said, and he chose to accept an offer from his state’s flagship university. He and his parents trusted this university to protect him, Byrd said, but the university failed him.
“Today, Mr. Governor, I stress to you and the board, the state of Maryland and the United States of America [that we] must also be mindful that this action — while absolutely necessary — does not at all conclude the work,” he said. “This is not the end. This is a new beginning.”
Since McNair’s death, the university has enacted reforms to better protect the safety, health and well-being of athletes, Michael Poterala, the university’s general counsel, told the board Wednesday.
By August 2018, the university had already begun to implement training for recognizing exertional health illness and developing emergency preparedness plans, he said. Additionally, he said, the athletic team physicians and trainers now report to the University Health Center instead of the athletic department, ensuring that staff members whose jobs depend on “competitive wins and losses” have no ability to influence athletes’ medical treatment.
The school has also enacted a system that allows athletes to anonymously submit complaints about their treatment, Poterala said. He added that these concerns are monitored by staff outside of the athletic department, including himself.
“It’s my job and that of my staff to protect everyone’s welfare and everyone’s rights,” he said. “That reform also has created an outlet so that if there’s any whiff of any inappropriate or abusive behavior, we hear about it early on and we deal with it swiftly.”
In response to a question from state Comptroller Peter Franchot, Poterala added that the money for the settlement would come from unrestricted university funds.
Following Poterala’s remarks, Franchot said that although no amount of money will ever bring McNair back, he was delighted to be able to vote in favor of the payment.
“I hope this settlement will provide some solace to the family and will serve as a formal acknowledgement of negligence from the university over Jordan’s tragic death,” he said. “The fact of the matter is the McNair family entrusted the University of Maryland with Jordan’s care and quite frankly, obviously, a number of people failed him.”