A Maryland booster who made comments critical of Jordan McNair and subsequently faced opposition within the football team before its game Saturday at Michigan apologized Monday to those he offended and said that the student newspaper took the remark out of context. He did not accompany the team to the game.
In a story in The Diamondback, Rick Jaklitsch was quoted as saying, “As much as we hate to say this, Jordan didn’t do what Jordan was supposed to do. A trainer like Wes Robinson thinks a kid’s properly hydrated and runs a drill set up for kids that are properly hydrated, and when the kid didn’t drink the gallon he knew he had to drink, that’s going to send the wrong signal to the person running the drill.”
Jaklitsch was referring to the fact that, according to the independent review looking into the circumstances surrounding McNair’s heatstroke and subsequent death, an unopened gallon of water was found by the 19-year-old offensive lineman’s locker after he took ill during a May 29 conditioning test.
“The last thing I would ever do is blame Jordan and I certainly apologize to anybody who felt I was blaming Jordan,” Jaklitsch told The Baltimore Sun in a telephone interview. “Jordan was a great kid. He made me laugh every single time I talked to him.
“I loved kidding him about McDonogh [where McNair went to high school] versus Calvert Hall. He was a great, lovable kid. I’m heartbroken that he’s gone and that his teammates have been through this, his parents have been through this, the university’s been through this.”
The Diamondback defended its reporting in a statement to The Sun. “The Diamondback does not feel it mischaracterized Mr. Jaklitsch's comments, and we stand by our reporting,” editor-in-chief Ryan Romano said. “Mr. Jaklitsch did not raise any concerns with our story after it was published.”
Dozens of players were on the field the day University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair fell ill during practice, suffering heatstroke that would lead to his death. But just six players agreed to speak to the consultant the university hired to investigate what happened that day.
The story led Jaklitsch to cancel his plans to travel with the team to Michigan last week. Jaklitsch said he was parking his car at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport on Friday when he received a call from senior associate athletic director Cheryl Harrison informing him that a few players had told her they were upset and that it could be uncomfortable if he traveled on the team plane.
Jaklitsch, a lawyer and former Terrapin Club president who was among a group of high-level boosters to send a letter of support for coach DJ Durkin last month to the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, said it was his decision whether to fly with the team. Jaklitsch said he didn’t want to be a distraction and returned home. He did not attend the game.
Harrison “called to make me aware that there were three players that were uncomfortable with my prior remarks and I, for the sake of the team, said, ‘If anyone’s uncomfortable I didn’t have to go on this trip,’” Jaklitsch said Monday.
“They at no time told me I wasn’t welcome. They invited me to dinner that night with the boosters. It was a decision I made not to distract the team, not to distract the coaching staff. They've been through enough.”
A university spokeswoman declined to comment Monday on the circumstances surrounding Jaklitsch not taking the team plane to Michigan, where the Terps lost to then-No. 15 Michigan, 42-21.
Jaklitsch said his quote in The Diamondback “made it look like I was blaming Jordan, which was the last thing in the world I was doing. I was making a point that there’s a whole lot of little tiny things that often come together that cause tragedy, there’s no one thing that stands out. Because of that, there’s no reason to blame other people and look for a head on a pike.
“That was the point I was trying to make. The last thing I wanted to do was blame a great kid like Jordan. That’s what’s been portrayed as, which to me is absurd. It really frustrates me that taking up for DJ Durkin, who I know to be a man of great character, is somehow seen as speaking out against Jordan. We’re all on the same team. We’re all Terps.”
Jaklitsch said he has received anonymous phone calls with messages, “I hope your kid dies, I hope you know what it feels like.’”
Jaklitsch has been very public in his support of Durkin, who remains on administrative leave. Jaklitsch believes Durkin was blamed for McNair’s death and put on administrative leave by university president Wallace Loh and athletic director Damon Evans as a result.
“Yes I support DJ because I know what a man of great character he is,” Jaklitsch said. “At the same time I still know what a tragedy it is for the McNair family. I can’t imagine the horror of what they’ve been through. That doesn’t mean DJ should lose his job. He shouldn’t.”
At a news conference three days after Durkin and three others were placed on administrative leave, Loh said the university took all “legal and moral responsibility” for McNair's death, saying mistakes were made by the training staff in treating McNair by failing to give him cold-water immersion therapy or take his temperature, which was later measured at 106 degrees.