In a tearful two-hour meeting Thursday night, University of Maryland football head coach DJ Durkin and acting athletic director Damon Evans reassured parents of Terps football players that the program had followed protocols the day Jordan McNair was hospitalized.
McNair, 19, died June 13, two weeks after the Randallstown resident had problems recovering from an organized team workout in College Park. The circumstances of the offseason workout have come under scrutiny from the university, which has hired a sports medicine consultant to review the death of the former McDonogh High School offensive lineman. A cause of death has not been disclosed.
Three parents who spoke with The Baltimore Sun said Friday that they left Thursday’s meeting at the Gossett Team House in College Park confident in the coaches’ handling of the incident and the program.
"They assured us they are safety first," Melinda Simms, the mother of offensive lineman Terrance Davis, said of the coaches. She added: "Everything that could have been done was done."
In a question-and-answer session addressing player safety, parents inquired about the team’s training procedures and safety measures. Simms asked about the potential for further pre-screening for “invisible” problems; coaches replied that they would get back to her, she said.
Durkin said the coaching staff has begun taking extra precautions with players’ hydration levels.
The coach also has urged players to speak out if they are feeling ill, said the parents, who called the need for more communication a major theme of their conversation. Simms said McNair’s death was a “wake-up call.”
“Players need to open up and speak out about any health problems,” Simms said. “They typically don't speak out because they don’t want to feel ‘less than.’ They want to be macho men and fulfill dreams, but if your body is telling you something, find out what it's saying.”
One parent who asked not to be identified said their biggest takeaway was that the 30 to 40 parents at the meeting wanted the team to return to the field and honor McNair’s memory with inspired play.
“We lost a very popular young man,” the parent said. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t get choked up.”
“Parents were all teary-eyed," Simms said. "We all lost a son."
The meeting was not about pointing fingers, Simms said, but rather about the safety of the team.
Referencing McNair’s parents, Tonya Wilson and Marty McNair, Simms said, "We have to make sure this doesn't happen again and that we are there for Tonya and Marty."
A university spokesperson said Durkin and Evans gathered the parents as soon as possible after McNair’s funeral Wednesday to “keep the lines of communication open to our football family members.” The two offered few additional details about the May 29 workout itself, citing the external inquiry into his death, the parents said.
In a news conference the day after McNair’s death, Evans said McNair was participating with teammates in a workout supervised by certified athletic trainers that began around 4:15 p.m. on one of Maryland’s practice fields. Parents said it was the first workout after a break for final exams. Weather records show that it was about 80 degrees in College Park then, with humidity near 70 percent and limited cloud cover.
After about 15 to 20 minutes of stretching, Evans said, McNair and teammates completed 10 repetitions of 110-yard sprints, a “baseline conditioning activity.” Several parents told The Sun they didn’t consider the day’s workout overly strenuous. One said the players moved on to positional drills after the sprints.
After the workout, trainers attended to McNair, Evans said, having noticed he was having difficulty recovering. McNair then was taken to the team’s training room for further observation and medical care, Evans said. At 6 p.m., McNair was transported to a hospital. Durkin and his wife, Sarah, visited McNair every day, parents said.
University officials have not yet provided a more complete timeline or information on when McNair finished the sprints, who cared for him or how long it took to call 911 after he began showing signs of difficulty recovering.
Still, the parents expressed confidence in Durkin.
"Everybody has kept the faith," Simms said.
At a viewing Tuesday and the funeral service Wednesday, hundreds of friends and family paid their respects to McNair, who was entering his second season in the program. The 6-foot-4, 325-pound redshirt freshman was remembered as a “gentle giant,” and fellow offensive linemen Johnny Jordan and Ellis McKennie were among those who spoke Wednesday at Baltimore’s New Psalmist Baptist Church.
Team members have been told that regularly scheduled practices are voluntary until further notice, according to a school spokeswoman, and the parents said pastors and counselors have been made available.
Durkin has not spoken publicly since last week’s news conference at Maryland Stadium, where he choked up as he tried to describe McNair. He also has not tweeted since June 8.
But the program’s offseason has otherwise continued apace. On Friday, the Terps held a camp for prospective recruits in College Park, as they have throughout the week. One tweet Monday from Tyler Tinson, a rising high school junior from Exton, Pa., included a photo showing the wide receiver with his arm around Durkin.