After collapsing at a May 29 Maryland football “organized workout,” lineman Jordan McNair was quickly hospitalized. According to a GoFundMe site set up by friends after his hospitalization, McNair had a liver transplant there, and died on June 13. The Maryland athletics department has released few details about the circumstances leading to his hospitalization and death, other than that McNair had shown some difficulty in “recovering” while performing ten 110-yd sprints. No cause of death has been announced or even alluded to.
The school announced on June 19 that it had hired athletic trainer Rod Walters, who had previously been a head trainer at Appalachian State and South Carolina, to “evaluate relevant policies and protocols.” There is no indication anywhere that an autopsy has been, or will be, conducted.
The McNair family should know that they have some leverage in this situation, but also that there may be a need to act quickly. Some pertinent factors:
1. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act give the player (and parents) rights to access to most records which pertain to the student.
2. As was made clear by the Agu case at Cal-Berkeley, the Plancher case at UCF, and others, the interests of the university and those of the deceased player’s family often quite quickly conflict.
To keep track of events, and to insure that the family’s interests are protected, the family should probably:
a) immediately request a copy of any letter or email from or between Maryland Athletics and the consultant retained, Rod Walter. Ascertaining the scope of Walters’ assignment, as defined by Maryland, is important in determining whether the family’s interests are being protected.
b) request in writing, pursuant to FERPA, immediate access to all records, including any having to do with McNair’s death, and the circumstances surrounding it, on an ongoing basis. Specifically request the campus police report, and any other documents prepared by other staffers. Also specifically request production of all emails, pertaining to McNair, generated by any university employee since May 29.
c) demand that the school pay for an autopsy — by an expert selected, retained by, and reporting to, the McNair family. This is one of those expenses which can easily be paid out of the SAAF (Student Athlete Assistance Fund). If anyone at Maryland objects to funding for the autopsy for an athlete whose death appears causally related to his on-field collapse, the school should be immediately reported to the NCAA (and the press.)
d) ideally, retain a private investigator to interview teammates, to pin down what went on the day of McNair’s collapse. It’s amazing how stories can change over time, and getting fresh accounts is paramount.
e) specifically request a copy of all of McNair’s performance-and-body-monitoring data, generated by Physimax or by any other means. There is a strong possibility McNair was wearing body monitors, showing pulse and other metrics, at the time he collapsed.
Some large issues are generated by this series of events:
A. Year-round workouts are bad for any athlete. Months of rest are a good thing.
B. So-called ‘voluntary’ workouts — such as the one during which McNair collapsed — are not voluntary. If you don’t show, coaches know, and won’t give you playing time. The NCAA should demand that no events of any kind be held or supervised or even viewed by any staffer for two months per year. (Note: Maryland has now, suddenly, informed all players that, from here on out, all workouts are ‘voluntary.’
C. Behemoth lineman should not, under any circumstances, be doing ten 110-yard sprints. Their job in the game is to sprint short distances around the line of scrimmage. Here’s a little history from the Baltimore Sun on June 14:
Towson offensive lineman Gavin Class (St. Paul’s) collapsed during a summer practice in 2013 after suffering from heatstroke and underwent a successful liver transplant. In 2014, Morgan State freshmen defensive lineman Marquese Meadow died of heatstroke after a preseason practice, according to an autopsy.
The standards — and NCAA controls upon — training and workouts for players of exceptional size are antique. And an alarmingly high percentage of football practice collapses, and deaths, occur in linemen. One-size-fits-all is not prudent training.
D. Where is the NCAA, in terms of setting updated standards, and choosing to investigate? AWOL. In other industrial settings, OSHA usually immediately sends an independent investigator on-site, any time an employee dies. The NCAA has no one. They love to spend their money and staff time with on-site investigation of allegations of dollar payments to black athletes at southern schools (witness, recently, Ole Miss and Mississippi State). But a death of a D-1 player? — the NCAA doesn’t have the time to lift a finger.