Monday, October 22, 2018
Sports

College football can learn from Jordan McNair. Will it?

Today, every college football program in the country should be having a discussion that starts with these two words:

Jordan McNair.

Jordan should be getting ready for the upcoming season with his University of Maryland teammates. He should be getting ready for his second year of college classes. He should be hanging out with friends, eating pizza, playing video games and doing the things typical 19-year-olds do.

But Jordan is dead.

He died on June 13, two weeks after collapsing following a team workout that including 10 sprints of 110 yards. He had seizures. He hyperventilated. His body temperature rose to 106 degrees. Yet it took the Maryland training staff an hour to call for help. It was too late. Jordan fought for two weeks, but he didn't survive.

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On Tuesday, Maryland president Wallace D. Loh apologized and said the university takes "legal and moral responsibility.'' Perhaps those words would have had more meaning had they been said weeks ago. Perhaps those words would have meant more had they not followed an explosive ESPN report that exposed the football program's toxic culture based on abuse, intimidation and humiliation.

Strength coach Rick Court resigned and head coach DJ Durkin is on administrative leave and, if Maryland truly is taking responsibility, Durkin will be fired.

How? How did this happen?

Let's not act all shocked. The answer to that is easy.

Maryland, like pretty much every other football program in the country, is consumed by winning. For many programs, to get that winning culture, you must break down a player's will and then build him back up into a tough-as-nails robot who is willing to do anything to win, including not giving up even when the body is screaming that something is wrong. And anyone who can't keep up is weak and useless and, therefore, bad for the culture.

What we also saw at Maryland is a bureaucracy in which the head coach is often so far removed from what is going on under his command and interested only in the glory of winning that he is oblivious or willfully blind to its serious problems. It's no different than what we saw at Penn State with Joe Paterno and what we are seeing now at Ohio State with Urban Meyer.

What happened to Jordan McNair at Maryland could have happened anywhere. On a recent podcast called Origins with James Andrew Miller that celebrated the success of Alabama's Nick Saban, there was a story about how Crimson Tide football players were once ordered by the team's strength coach to run 28 consecutive 110-yard sprints, forcing even the most conditioned players to vomit. While that story should be viewed as dangerous and disgusting, it was told by those involved with humor and pride. It was even suggested that this is what makes Alabama so good.

This is what football, especially at the college and high school level, has become.

You gotta be tough. No cowards here. There's no gain without pain.

Don't bend over. Don't drink water. Don't say you're tired. Or sick. Or in life-threatening trouble.

Your manhood is questioned. If you quit on a drill, it means to don't want to win. You're a loser!

Even after the tragedy at Maryland, there is a circling of the wagons in college football to protect its misguided notion that punishment is needed to build young men into good football players.

Just look at what South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said when asked about Durkin, a former assistant of his at Florida, and the ESPN report that exposed just how out of control Maryland's program had become. Instead of addressing the issues that plague most programs, Muschamp attacked ESPN and those who spoke to ESPN anonymously.

"There is no credibility in anonymous sources,'' Muschamp said. "If that former staffer had any guts, why didn't he put his name on that? I think that's gutless. In any business, in any company, and in any football team, especially right here in August, you can find a disgruntled player that's probably not playing. I think it's a lack of journalistic integrity to print things with anonymous sources.''

That idiotic quote is the epitome of everything that's wrong with college football and it showed that Muschamp and his caveman mentality is a part of the problem.

No doubt that those who spoke anonymously did so because they were fearful what would happen to them if they were quoted by name. Those who spoke to ESPN were merely trying to point out a senseless death, while doing their best to see that it never happens again.

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Gutless? That's courage. They should be applauded. For Muschamp to attack them was not only tone deaf, it was shameless.

What happened to McNair cannot be changed. But football coaches can learn from it.

Here's hoping that they do before we hear about the next player collapsing and not getting up.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones.

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