Maryland Football Needs a Player-Safety Rep, and Safety Punchlist

Jordan McNair died a year ago. Maryland football had a month to get ready for the practice at which he collapsed (the first practice of the summer), and they screwed it up, by failing to have on premises an ice bath which would have quickly solved McNair’s heat exhaustion symptoms.

Since the McNair investigations were completed, several factors have been left dangling:

New Maryland Statute

The state of Maryland just passed a statute which requires that each university “develop a system whereby their student-athletes can express concerns about what is happening on their team to somebody outside of the athletic department.” The details of such a system are left wide open.

Player Safety Representative

That ‘system’ should include a Player Safety Representative, selected by the Maryland football team, who can represent player interests, and “express concerns about” safety matters, consistent with the statute’s mandate.

 Funding for Player Safety Rep

That system should also, consistent with the statute, include a budget allocation, to provide funding to allow the Maryland Player Safety Rep to: a) have his own paid ‘Safety Quality Control’ advisor, available on a part-time, on-call basis, perhaps drawn from the University’s schools of medicine or kinesiology; and b) retain other independent sources to advise on specific issues. (Such costs are precisely the kind of expenses “tethered to education” which the recent O’Bannon and Alston decisions have encouraged.)

First-Practice Safety Punchlist

There were five — not one, but five — athletic trainers on the field when Jordan McNair collapsed. The subsequent independent report by Trainer Walters was so amateurish and disorganized (no freshman English prof would have accepted its structure and editing) — but also lacking in any background or reference to common industrial risk-prevention procedures —  that it is hard to tell what changes will actually be in effect when Maryland football starts in again, here on this one-year anniversary of McNair’s death.

Walters and Maryland should have devised a simple, step-by-step, brand-new safety paradigm, for use by every Big Ten school.

In the vacuum left by Walters, I will suggest a simple first step: publication and use of a First-Practice Safety Punchlist. This is hardly a novel notion, having long been in use in construction and other high-risk trades: a safety expert reviews every risk, and every risk-reducing action, equipment, or personnel, and signs off on the review. (And the punchlist itself should be devised with input from the Player Safety Rep.)

Just Imagine

The preservation of the student-athlete in higher education adds richness and diversity to intercollegiate athletics and is entirely consistent with the goals of the Sherman Act,” (Regents vs. NCAA, 1984) 

If the five trainers on the field one year ago had been required to consult with a Player Safety Rep, and then use, and sign-off on, a thorough Safety Punchlist, before any practice could be held:

Jordan McNair would still be alive.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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