College football is a true obsession. Fans come to games decked out in school colors, covered in facepaint, and ready to cry if their team loses. But, in recent years, many teams have been plagued with accusations of fostering toxic and even abusive cultures. These teams have diehard fans that will always support their teams’ actions, yet some people are now beginning to wonder just how much players might be suffering behind the scenes.
Much of this burgeoning decline in support for college football can be attributed to a recent scandal at the University of Maryland (UMD). Jordan McNair, a football player at Maryland, died on June 13th, 2018, two weeks after he collapsed during a preseason workout. His death blasted the Maryland football program into a frenzy, resulting in the suspension of head coach DJ Durkin and the resignation of strength coach Rick Court, who oversaw McNair’s workout.
According to Heather Dinich at ESPN, multiple witnesses reported McNair looking unwell before he had seizures and convulsions on the field at practice. Many players at the workout with McNair said he exhibited signs of extreme exhaustion both during and after the workout, and they said that the trainers and coaches present did not adequately respond to the situation. His body temperature when he reached the hospital was 106 degrees Fahrenheit, dangerously higher than the standard. This body temperature implies that McNair was not appropriately cooled down after collapsing, probably because UMD football staff failed to address his medical symptoms.
Despite these allegations of negligence, Durkin has only been placed on administrative leave. He has neither resigned nor been fired, likely because some of UMD’s top donors came out in support of him. Still, many people are tired of hearing about college football coaches profiting while their players are harmed.
College football is an industry that runs on the success and popularity of its teams. This constant drive to be the best can improve a program but, like the scandal at UMD has demonstrated, can also create a toxic and harmful environment.
Unlike large universities, GDS does not rely on its sports teams’ successes to bring in money and the athletic staff prioritizes the safety of its students. Athletic Director Kathy Hudson said that the GDS athletic department practices extreme caution when it comes to deciding whether to practice sports in dangerous weather. Hudson said that, when it’s potentially too hot outside, she uses a gadget that evaluates the weather and checks the results. “If it falls within the black: no outdoor activities. If it falls within the red: you can only be out for an hour,” Hudson remarked.
As a result of the high temperatures, all GDS sports practices were moved indoors the first week of school. One day, when the heat was deemed less hazardous, teams were only allowed to practice outside for one hour and had to go inside for the remaining hour of practice.
Hudson follows the guidelines from the National Athletic Trainers Association to ensure that GDS employs safe practices for athletics. Hudson declared that, at GDS, the well-being of the athlete always comes first.
“We can always miss a practice and do something inside as opposed to sending [an athlete] outside,” Hudson said. “No kid should ever have to ask to go take a water break. And the coaches don’t say no to a student’s request for a water break.”
McNair’s death sparked a national conversation about preventing heat illness and keeping players of all sports safe. McNair was only 19 years old, and, like many students at GDS, he was just practicing his sport. However, unlike GDS, evidence suggests the University of Maryland staff sacrificed his life for an offseason workout.
By Abigail Murphy