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Maryland announces partnership with Jordan McNair Foundation as $3.5 million settlement to family is approved

On the same day that the Board of Public Works officially approved a $3.5 million settlement from the University of Maryland to the family of Jordan McNair, the late Terps offensive lineman who died of heatstroke in June 2018, the state’s flagship university announced a joint partnership with the foundation created in his honor.

The university on Wednesday released details on several new initiatives it will conduct in conjunction with the Jordan McNair Foundation, created by Martin McNair and Tonya Wilson, Jordan’s parents, to recognize the former McDonogh standout and educate people about the dangers of and treatment for heatstroke.

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“Today’s unprecedented settlement and partnership with the University of Maryland further emphasize that our son’s tragic death will not be in vain,” Martin McNair said in a news release. “We are now focused on honoring Jordan’s legacy. This includes protecting student athletes at all levels of competition, increasing awareness, education, and prevention of all heat-related illnesses and empowering student athletes, and [Maryland president] Dr. Darryll Pines has assured Tonya and me that this work is as meaningful to the university and athletic department as it is to us.”

At a news conference Wednesday, Wilson said, “The pain we push through, and we continue to push through, the blessing is that we’re saving other lives.”

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Among the initiatives, Maryland’s athletic department will donate $50,000 to the foundation each of the next two years. The department will also partner with the foundation on other marketing and fundraising endeavors designed to raise awareness of student-athlete health and safety issues.

A program in Jordan’s honor, jointly managed by the University Health Center and Maryland Athletics, will focus on topics such as heat exertion, concussions, mental health and nutrition. The Maryland football team has also established the Jordan M. McNair Award for Courage, which will be presented annually “to the player who reflects the spirit of McNair by showing great professionalism athletically and academically, dedication to his team, strength in the face of immense adversity, as well as courage and conviction to do the right thing.”

The athletic department will name the Offensive Line Room in Cole Field House in Jordan’s honor.

“This partnership will not only continue Jordan’s legacy, but will create a lasting impact on the health and safety of all current and future student-athletes here at Maryland and across the world,” said Maryland head coach Mike Locksley, who was hired in 2018 after D.J. Durkin was fired and maintains a close relationship with the McNair family. “I want to personally thank Jordan’s parents, Marty and Tonya, for their selfless leadership in partnering with the University of Maryland to create something tangible that will educate and positively impact so many. Jordan will always be a part of our Maryland Football family.”

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The payment to the McNair family will come from “unrestricted university funds” and not taxpayer dollars, said Chris Lord, deputy chief of the educational affairs division in the Office of the Attorney General.

“I hope this settlement will provide some solace to the family [and] will serve as a formal acknowledgement of negligence from the University over Jordan’s tragic death,” said state comptroller Peter Franchot (D), who serves on the board that oversees state spending alongside state treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) and Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

At a news conference, lawyers for the McNair family called for new legislation to assist the families of student-athletes in litigation. Hassan Murphy, one of the family’s attorneys, cited Maryland law that currently limits the maximum amount of money permitted to be collected in damages in litigation against the state or its employees to $400,000.

Martin McNair later testified in support of a bill — the Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act — introduced for the third straight year by Del. Brooke E. Lierman of Baltimore that would require athletic programs to implement more stringent protocols to respond to player injuries and illness and provide protection of scholarships for students who suffer incapacitating injuries or illnesses in certain circumstances. The bill would also prohibit public institutions from preventing student-athletes from earning compensation from the use of their name, image or likeness, a measure that has been backed by Congress and other state legislatures, even as the NCAA recently suspended a vote on the initiative.

An external investigation into the death of the 19-year-old from Randallstown, who collapsed during a team conditioning test on May 29 and died a little less than two weeks later, found that more than an hour passed between the time McNair started displaying initial heatstroke symptoms and when university officials called 911. The review also found that the athletic training staff did not take McNair’s temperature and did not use a cold-water immersion treatment, a technique researchers say has a high success rate for those suffering heatstroke.

A separate investigation conducted by an independent, eight-person commission also found that the football program “fostered a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out” — but stopped short of calling the program “toxic,” which was reported in an earlier ESPN article.

Former coach Durkin was placed on administrative leave and later fired, along with two athletic trainers directly involved with the improper treatment of McNair. Head strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, whose coaching methods were criticized in the ESPN article, also resigned.

Former Maryland president Wallace D. Loh announced his intention to retire in wake of the scandal and he officially retired in June 2019. Loh previously said that the university takes “legal and moral responsibility for mistakes the training staff made” on the day that McNair was hospitalized.

In the aftermath of McNair’s death, the university implemented close to two dozen recommendations from Dr. Rod Walters, who reviewed the team’s protocols the day McNair suffered heatstroke. Among those measures includes ensuring that cold water immersion devices are available at all practices, that specific temperature readings are done at each practice location, and that updated emergency plans are posted at all activity sites and drilled into staff.

A 10-person independent medical review board was also formed to review policies regarding athlete health and welfare, including best practices typically recommended by the NCAA. The medical staff no longer works under the direction of the athletic department, instead reporting to the University Health Center.

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Gov. Hogan also signed into law a bill requiring more transparency from the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, which received criticism for its decision to keep Durkin as football coach before he was fired by Loh. James Brady, the chairman of the Board of Regents, resigned after defending the governing body’s decision to retain Durkin.

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“It’s my sincere hope that, at least in some small way, [the settlement] will bring some measure of relief, some sense of justice and some measure of closure for Martin and for Tonya and their entire family,” Hogan said Wednesday.

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