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Parents of Maryland football player Jordan McNair hire prominent lawyer Billy Murphy

Billy Murphy talks at a press conference after his law firm, Murphy Falcon & Murphy, was hired by the family of Jordan McNair, a University of Maryland football player who died after a team workout this past May. (Jay Reed, Baltimore Sun video)

The prominent Baltimore law firm that represented Freddie Gray's family has been hired by the parents of a University of Maryland football player who died last month after collapsing during an outdoor team workout.

Jordan McNair, a former McDonogh standout, was hospitalized May 29 and died two weeks later. While the university has not disclosed his cause of death, the website for a foundation launched by McNair's family said the 19-year-old offensive lineman died of heatstroke.

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Attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. said at a news conference Thursday that McNair's parents reached out to his firm shortly after the incident and are "looking for justice."

Murphy said Tonya Wilson and Martin McNair are grieving but focused on making "darn sure that this kind of injury never happens again to an athlete in this country and in the world."

The family recently launched the Jordan McNair Foundation, with the goal of reducing "the number of heat related deaths that occur in student athletes."

"Jordan's untimely death was the result of a heatstroke he suffered during an organized offseason team workout," the foundation's website states.

The state flagship university recently hired Walters Inc., a sports medicine consulting firm, to conduct an external review of the team's protocols related to McNair's death. The review could take up to 90 days. Murphy said his firm plans to wait until after Walters Inc. releases its report to launch any kind of legal action.

"We're not in a hurry to file this lawsuit at the expense of knowing everything we can before we do it," he said.

But Murphy said he's deeply skeptical of the university's version of events. The firm has spoken to several eyewitnesses but declined to elaborate on who lawyers reached out to.

"My job is to be suspicious of institutional reactions to personal injuries that could cost them a lot of money to fairly compensate. That's how I feel here," Murphy said. "I'm very suspicious that they will do what is necessary and say what is necessary to avoid responsibility for this injury."

According to a timeline released by the university, the football team gathered for a supervised workout at about 4:15 p.m. May 29. It was about 80 degrees. The eligible players participated in "warm-up, baseline running drills and position-specific drills." Strength and conditioning staff, certified athletic trainers and head football coach DJ Durkin were present.

The university said that trainers noticed McNair was having trouble recovering after the workout ended. Staff began "supporting an active recovery and providing care" before he was moved to the athletic training room. Staff eventually called 911, and McNair was taken to the hospital around 6 p.m.

According to 911 tapes obtained by The Baltimore Sun, McNair appeared to have suffered a seizure and was "unable to control" his breath after the football practice. Heatstroke can cause seizures.

From 1960 to 2017, there were 145 cases of heatstroke-related deaths in football players at all levels, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, with 90 percent of those deaths occurring during practice.

Murphy said every coach should know the symptoms of heatstroke.

"There's no excuse in the world for why a coach at a reputable, well-funded program does not know and react to the symptoms of heatstroke," he said.

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The attorney blamed football's "macho culture" for what occurred.

"The tendency in a culture like that is to overlook legitimate symptoms that are causing a player not to be able to perform," he said. "That's what we believe happened here."

In a statement emailed to The Sun, university spokeswoman Katie Lawson responded to Murphy's comments, writing: "The university immediately sought and secured experts to conduct a thorough and impartial review. We are making every effort to understand as much as we can about this tragedy, as the safety of our students is the highest priority."

The Murphy, Falcon & Murphy law firm was behind the $6.4 million settlement for the family of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old Baltimore man who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody.

Prince George's County emergency dispatcher just before 6 p.m. May 29, 2018. (Baltimore Sun video)
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