By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
For nearly one year, the University of Maryland has been trying to overcome its culpability in the death of former offensive lineman Jordan McNair. One day after the athletic department announced its plans for its spring football game in April; the University provided a synopsis of the progress made by the department on implementing over 40 recommendations issued in the Walters Report, which revamps procedures for handling medical emergencies that potentially arise during athletic practices.
McNair, a Baltimore native who played high school football at McDonough, lost his life due to the inefficiency of previous athletic training staff when he began suffering signs of heatstroke during last year’s spring practice. The subsequent investigation revealed that McNair did not receive proper treatment for more than an hour and he never recovered. His death led to the firing of then head coach D.J. Durkin and his handpicked strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, and a potentially lucrative settlement with McNair’s family.
Athletic Director Damon Evans was flanked by first year head coach Mike Locksley during a presentation before an advisory committee established by the University System Board of Regents to monitor the University of Maryland athletics department. During the announcement, Evans said that the department has 18 of the 20 policy improvements implemented to keep student-athletes safe in the event of a health emergency.
The 19th would create an outside advisory panel that constantly oversees the training staff’s protocols and procedures. Dr. Rod Walters is currently leading the panel and the rest of the board expects to be announced in the coming weeks.
Walters was hired last spring by the University to investigate and provide solutions to the procedures, or lack thereof, and offer improvements to what was in place at the time of McNair’s crisis. Two of the suggestions, which are standard operating procedures for most athletic facilities, may have already paid dividends when a current athlete appeared to be having a heat related issue but was immediately transported to the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center last week, according to the Baltimore Sun.
During a recent workout with teammates Raymond Boone, a defensive back from Greenbelt, MD., also reportedly became ill in the new practice facility at Cole Field House. Boone was placed in an ice bath before he was transported to the hospital in Baltimore. Although his physical distress was not heat related, the new mandated protocols that were in place eased his condition.
During the presentation, Evans stated the University’s medically certified trainers still report to an associate athletic director. However, another report recommended an “independent care” model, which moves the entire training staff to a separate chain of command. However, that is an issue still being evaluated by the athletics department.
“We’re going to put the model in place that’s going to be best for our student-athletes [and] provide the best possible health care,” Evans said. “Hopefully, in the coming months we’ll be able to clearly identify what that model is.”
Evans also acknowledged there is a new emphasis on channels of communication so that athletes can be comfortable registering complaints about treatment from coaches and other staff members including an anonymous online portal. This is in response to the reports of a “toxic culture” assessment by players.
Locksley, who will lead spring practice for the first time as head coach next month calls the changes a “game plan” for the safety of athletes.
“These recommendations and the oversight that comes with them will put the school at the forefront of player safety,” Locksley said.