Ellis McKennie and Jordan McNair grew into close friends by the time they were football teammates at Maryland. McKennie was on the field when McNair became ill during a workout there on May 29, 2018.
McNair died on June 13 from exertional heatstroke and just a few days later, Marty McNair, Jordan’s father, began a quest to educate people that injuries — and possibly more serious consequences — can take place that are preventable. That’s why McKennie and many others came to McDonogh School on Saturday for the Jordan McNair Foundation Health & Wellness Sports Clinic, designed to educate coaches, young athletes and parents about the signs of injuries related to heat and how to prevent and treat them.
McKennie played at Maryland from 2016-2019, and the offensive lineman was a captain during his final season. He just completed his first year of law school, is on the board of the McNair Foundation, and was at McDonogh on Saturday, where both played, to talk on a hot day.
“One of the biggest things that I like to talk about out here is just the athlete empowerment of it, of being able to speak for yourself and speak for your own body,” McKennie said. “Be able to say how you’re feeling and not be worried about how that might affect the playing time or the perception of you. Just get that confidence in yourself to be able to speak up.”
Often in football, at any level, players are pushed to finish workouts and games, no matter what. Marty McNair and Tonya Wilson, Jordan’s parents and the foundation’s co-founders, want to spread their message to football players and then expand it next year to other sports.
“This is an outside injury,” Marty McNair said. “One of the main things we emphasize is this can happen to anybody exerting themselves in the elements. Our mission is awareness, education and the prevention of heat-related injuries.”
McNair said they moved quickly after Jordan’s death to get this foundation started. The inaugural event was held in 2019. They want the clinic to be on a regular basis.
“You think about losing a child, I mean, what more of a tragic scenario could happen to a family?” McNair said. “We wanted to do the opposite of going into that rabbit hole of despair with grief. So, it was like this is the way to get in front of it.”
Victor Banks and Aprell Wright brought their 7-year old twins — Victor and Jordan — to the event. The kids are starting their football careers, and the parents thought this would be a good place to learn about heat issues.
Banks said they came to McDonogh from Baltimore City and were happy with the lessons that both they and their sons came away with.
“We got here not knowing what to expect, but it sounded interesting,” he said. “We liked that a lot; about the kids learning to listen to their body and us teaching the kids.”
Craig Bennett, medical director for Lifebridge Health Sports Medicine Institute and former longtime head orthopedic surgeon for the Terps, is part of the foundation’s medical advisory board. He said that teaching about this subject is crucial.
“If an athlete doesn’t feel right, educating the parents and athletes is important,” he said. “[We said] simple basic things parents can understand so they can tell the kids.”
McKennie is glad to help continue his friend’s legacy through events like this.
He plans to get to as many of them as he can so that, as someone who played football, he can give parents and kids a lesson or two.
“It’s about hypermasculinity that’s always being taught,” he said. “You want to be a tough guy. But you’ve got to be able to look out for yourself.”