Transcript: University of Maryland press conference about the death of football player Jordan McNair

The following is a transcript from a news conference held Tuesday, Aug. 14 by University of Maryland President Wallace Loh and athletic director Damon Evans about the investigation into the football team’s handling of the death of player Jordan McNair.

Wallace Loh:

“Thank you, Katie, and thank you all for being here this afternoon on relatively short notice. Damon and I just got back from Baltimore. We went there this morning to meet with the parents of Jordan McNair. And I wanted to meet with them in private to express on behalf of the university our apology for their loss of their son. I said to them — and I said I will be mentioning it publicly this afternoon, but I wanted them to hear it directly from me this morning — the university accepts legal and moral responsibly for the mistakes that our training staff made on that fateful workout day of May the 29th, which of course led subsequently to his death on June 13.

“I explained to the parents that we have retained a very, an expert team, of sports medicine and physical athletic training personnel to do a thorough review of the circumstances and the facts of that case, as well as of our protocols and procedures, and that when the final report is available — and they expect it will be available by middle of September, and it will be made public — and I said, ‘When that report comes, I will come and present that report to you before we make it public.’ But I also explained that we’ve been getting progress reports. And based upon what we know at this time, even though the final report is not complete, I said to the family, ‘The university owes you an apology.’ You entrusted Jordan to our care and he is never returning home again.

“We have looked at the preliminary — preliminary — observations that were given to me and to others. Our, some of our policies and protocols do not conform to best practices. Some of the actions of our athletic training staff — not the coaching staff, the athletic training staff — well they basically misdiagnosed the situation. No vital signs were taken, other safeguard actions that should have been taken were not. For me that was enough to say, ‘I need to come and personally apologize.’ And I know that we will do — not I know, I’m committed to doing the right thing. And nothing that we can do can bring closure to their enormous loss. But I made this commitment to the parents this morning, together with athletic director Damon Evans, we both made this commitment: that no Maryland student athlete will ever be in the situation where his or her life and safety and life will be at risk, especially when that risk is foreseeable. I made that commitment to them. I’m making it now to all of our student athletes and to [the] University of Maryland community and to all the people of Maryland.

Once we have — and I should also say that safeguards have already begun. We’ve provided additional training to athletic training staff. All sorts of things that we did not do are now in place.

The second thing I want to address are the reported allegations that came out recently on conduct that is simply inappropriate, unacceptable of bullying, intimidation — alleged bullying, alleged intimidation, alleged denigration of student athletes. My office is set up to receive, and we receive lots and lots of expressions of concern and issues and problems from faculty, staff, students and others. In this case we learned about it, about these allegations from the media. But regardless of the sources, what is important is how we address it. And we are guided by certain key values — accountability of all employees, of transparency and, yes, of fair process. So as soon as we knew about this, got together with Damon Evans and others, and director Evans, as you all know by now, put some staff — coaching staff and training staff — on administrative leave.

With regard to these allegations, which are very serious, they were totally inconsistent with what we stand for and our values, which is about education, preparing student athletes for life, and to be treated with respect and dignity. You can motivate people, push them to the limit without engaging in bullying behavior. But these are allegations. But we have to take them very, very seriously. So what fair process demands is that we do a thorough investigation by an independent group and they make recommendations and we will implement those recommendations and we will monitor the continued implementation of those recommendations.

To that end, I thought long and hard and put together a team, a commission of four individuals who will immediately — in fact, we’ve already met to begin the process of this review of the practices and the culture of the football program. They are the Honorable Ben Legg, retired chief judge of the United States District Court for Maryland; it is the Honorable Alex Williams, retired judge of the United States District of Maryland and former state’s attorney for Prince George’s county; it’s Charles Scheeler, senior counsel of DLA Piper, the global law firm with a branch in Baltimore, and he’s in Baltimore and everybody knows him. He was also a federal prosecutor for the United States attorney’s office for Maryland. And one of the reasons I selected him is because he has a lot of experience in this area. He was the monitor appointed by the NCAA and the Big 10 Conference to monitor the integrity agreement, the implementation of that integrity agreement of Penn State after their scandal. He was also the lead counsel in the investigation of steroid abuse in Major League Baseball. Those are three and the fourth and final one is a highly respected retired head football coach and also athletic director, and it’s not yet finalized but that name will be announced shortly.

This is the team of four individuals who will interview students, student athletes, parents, coaches, staff and other people who want to come forward and provide a report that’s based upon the work done by reporters and has been published. We take those reports very seriously, but I think due process does require us to lay out the facts, give people a chance to respond and then we will act. But this not going to take forever. This is going to be an expedited but yet very careful review with all the confidentiality — confidentiality in terms of allowing people speak confidentially and candidly.

Let me just conclude by saying we will do everything possible that the situation that Jordan McNair found himself in will never happen again, and if we succeed as I surely hope and expect that we will, we will always keep alive the legacy of Jordan McNair and the values of this university with regard to student athletes will always be: you are for an education, we are here also to prepare you for life and we expect that all the people that you work with in the classroom and on the field comport with the values of respect and dignity and humane treatment.”

Damon Evans:

Good afternoon. My name is Damon Evans and I am the new athletic director at the University of Maryland. I want to begin by saying what I said to the parents of Jordan this morning: that we apologize for the mistakes that were made. I extend now that apology to his family, his friends and his teammates.

Today I want to update on our community on what we now know about the circumstances surrounding the death of our student athlete Jordan McNair and what changes we have already made to ensure that something like this never ever happens again. In July when I was named athletic director, my highest priority was to investigate the events surrounding this death. We needed to fully understand exactly what happened, how it happened and ensure that it never happens again. To do so we launched an independent review conducted by some of the leading experts in sports medicine, led by Rob Walters. That team has been interviewing our students, coaches and training staff to determine how our staff responded that day.

While the review is ongoing, we know enough now to share some of the preliminary findings. We have learned that Jordan did not receive appropriate medical care and mistakes were made by some of our athletic training personnel. Specifically in its preliminary observations, Walters found that the emergency response plan was not appropriately followed. Second, the care we provided was not consistent with best practices. And third that heat illness was not promptly identified or treated. Our athletic training staff did not take Jordan’s temperature and did not apply a cold-water immersion treatment. I expect additional findings when the Walters report is complete. That report will be made public.

We have already taken immediate steps to put additional safeguards in place for all of our athletic practices and training, not just football. We have changed how we practice and also how we train our staff. We have specifically changed how we practice in the heat by increasing breaks and adding cooling stations. I have also commissioned a second team of legal and sports experts who will review the recent allegations of unacceptable behaviors in our football program. I want to be clear that I have not witnessed any behavior as what was described in the media but it is essential that we fully review these allegations, and that is why we are conducting an independent third party review led by national leaders.

Additionally we have placed members of our training and coaching staff on administrative leave including the head football coach, and have parted ways with one of our members. Make no mistake: We will not tolerate any behavior from any employee within Maryland athletics that is detrimental to the mental or physical wellbeing of our student athletes. There is nothing more important than our student athletes’ safety, absolutely nothing.

Earlier today President Loh and I shared these preliminary findings with Jordan’s mother and father. We shared our deepest policies and sincere regrets. As a father there are no words to say to Jordan’s parents that are good enough. I have looked into the eyes of a grieving mother and father and there is simply nothing good enough. We will honor Jordan’s life and we will ensure that a tragedy such as this never happens on our campus again by working every single day to provide the safest environment for our student athletes on and off the field. I will continue to keep all of you informed about our work. I ask that you keep Jordan’s family, friends and teammates in your prayers. Thank you.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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