Today’s profile in courage award goes to Wallace D. Loh, president of the University of Maryland, who stood up for doing the right thing when he accepted “legal and moral responsibility’’ for the death of Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman on the school’s football team.
There was no hide and seek the way some college administrators behave when there is trouble on their doorstep.
What’s more, Dr. Loh said basic medical procedures had not been followed when McNair collapsed on the practice field during a conditioning workout in May and died two weeks later.
Whose fault is that? Well, plenty of people, the ones who stand around in shorts and baseball caps, driving the players in some cases to exhaustion and worse.
Credit ESPN for tearing open the scab on Maryland football and disclosing the practices that resulted in a player dying, a head coach suspended and the strength and conditioning coach fired.
It appears that the Maryland coaching staff, led by D.J. Durkin, created a climate that diminished the players, harassed them, drove them and, in one terrible case, led to the ultimate outcome.
Sadly, they are not alone. That is the culture of football, macho tough guy football. It is sickening because the players are treated like field hands, forced to accept all kinds of bullying, deprived of breaks in the heat, all in the pursuit of glory for the school and the coaches. And, oh yes, tuition, books and room and board for the athletes.
The Big Ten season begins with two coaches on the sidelines. Urban Meyer is on paid leave at Ohio State because he was a little careless about reporting domestic abuse charges lodged against one of his assistant coaches, a buddy boy assistant he brought with him to Columbus from his previous gig in Florida.
Guess who else was on Meyer’s staff at Florida. Why our old pal D.J. Durkin, that’s who. D.J. Durkin, whose coaching intensity was once described by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, another ex-boss, as “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.’’ D.J. Durkin, who is now on leave at Maryland.
According to ESPN, Durkin’s enthusiasm included intimidating and belittling players, embarrassing them, shaming them to extend themselves. One overweight offensive lineman was forced to stuff his face with candy bars while teammates worked out. Players who could not complete workouts were ridiculed. Sometimes players who did complete the workouts vomited.
What is it about football that causes coaches to go to these extremes? This is supposed to be an extra-curricular activity like the chess club. Instead, it has become a vicious exercise in excess.
This is all about building character, right? That’s what intercollegiate sports is supposed to do. Instead, in the wrong hands, it inflicts suffering, sends the message that failure reduces a player to less of a person.
And if the player pushes himself to the point of exhaustion, well that’s a measure of a great coach, getting the most out of an athlete.
It is the measure of a coach who ought to be doing something else for a living. Maybe faculty advisor to the chess club.