By MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO
When the University of Maryland Board of Regents released the findings of its investigation into the football program’s culture and determined that head coach D.J. Durkin should return after fourth months of administrative leave following the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, they fumbled the chance to do right by all parties involved.
However, in one of his final acts as President, Wallace Loh began the “reform process” of the athletic department by firing Durkin. The only fate left to be resolved in the administrative mess is that of Athletic Director since Loh is now “scheduled” to retire in June.
McNair’s death was an act of negligence that will reverberate for decades and this decision is one whose shock waves will keep a cloud over the University that may never lift. The same Board of Regents that thought Durkin was part of the solution to the problems that arose under his watch saw Loh defy them by making the only logical decision any university or athletic department could make.
In an era of sophisticated recruiting where information is at the fingertips of prospects via social media, doubling down to save Durkin’s current job was irresponsible from the start. Hours after the decision Maryland was disgraced around the country and all over the state. It became talking points for Governor Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous on the campaign trail.
Fans and supporters lit up talk radio and social media blame McNair’s family for the admitted apathy by the adults in charge of preventing an incident like this is shameful. It created a perception that College Park was a place where Black athletes lives don’t matter.
There was a palpable sense of a racial double standard in Maryland’s athletic department by the students too. A Black student-athlete can die of preventable causes under what should’ve been the watchful eye of a White coach and keep his job. After the university president admits the flaws that led to a senseless tragedy, his bosses ruled it’s not the head coach’s fault then allowed him to come back to work.
It became a rallying point for students and prominent high profile alumni to call them out. Fans were disgusted, students planned a march and rally for Thursday, and they had created another horrifying news cycle punctuated by Scott Van Pelt of ESPN and former quarterback Boomer Esiason on CBS Sports Radio ripping them. The two Maryland greats resounded as the Board was exposed for being out of touch with the damage they had caused to the program on national broadcasts. More of Durkin would have stripped the athletic program of any credibility and ruined any hopes for recruiting blue chip, five star prospects and field a competitive program.
Maryland’s Board of Regents implicitly concluded with the results of their investigation that Durkin was a first time head coach who made a fatal mistake but, it won’t happen again because we’ve new protocols in place. Those protocols won’t protect McNair, nor will they bring him back.
Whether sinister or insensitive the Board of Regents dropped the ball. Their heartless pragmatism set the tone for families to protect their kids from the Maryland program by exposing its toxicity. Loh’s sensitivity to the pulse of his campus and his stewardship from this mess in the final days of his era was, if nothing, prudent and may yet define him.