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McNair medical report offers recommendations to USM board

University of Maryland president Wallace Loh speaks at an August news conference to address the school's football program and the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who collapsed on a practice field and subsequently died, in College Park. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

University of Maryland president Wallace Loh speaks at an August news conference to address the school’s football program and the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who collapsed on a practice field and subsequently died, in College Park. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

TOWSON — A medical investigation into the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair provided the university with a list of recommendations to implement to prevent future heat stroke deaths but did not make any determinations as to who was at fault for McNair’s death.

The university did not make any personnel changes immediately following the release of the report, saying it would wait until the results of a broader investigation into the football program’s culture. Currently, head coach D.J. Durkin is on paid administrative leave.

“This is only the first step in the fact-finding process,” said James T. Brady, the chairman of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. “With any report like this there are recommendations that make a lot of sense going forward, and I am very much concerned about that going forward.”

The results of the investigation were released following a closed session of the board, where regents were briefed on the report by sports medicine consulting company Walters, Inc., which conducted the review.

Rod Walters, who led the review, said he would not make any determinations as to whether McNair’s death was an accident or due to negligence on the part of the athletic staff.

McNair was hospitalized following a May 29 team workout and died June 13. Six days later, the university hired Walters to conduct an investigation into the practices and procedures of the school’s athletic training staff.

Among the biggest concerns with the university’s treatment of McNair was that while methods like cooling towels and ice packs were used after he collapsed, an immersion cooling tub was not used. But Walters said it would be more difficult than imagined to move a person of McNair’s size, a large offensive lineman, into a tub.

“There were definitely efforts to cool,” Walters said. “My point was that if you had tried to do cold-water immersion, it would have been more effective.”

At an August news conference, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh said the university had learned enough from the investigation to believe that mistakes had been made that led to McNair’s death. Those mistakes included not following an emergency action plan, misdiagnosing the severity McNair’s symptoms, not checking his vital signs and not properly treating him for heat illness.

He also said the university accepted “legal and moral” responsibility for McNair’s death. No lawsuit has been filed and no settlements have been announced with the McNair family, but it has filed notice of a potential claim.

At the same news conference, Loh announced the creation of a three-member commission to investigate allegations of a toxic culture within the football program. For the most part, those allegations come from an ESPN article looking at the program’s culture.

Later in August, the USM regents announced they would be taking over the investigations, adding five members to the commission, including former Gov. Robert Ehrlich and former regent and U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen, who is also a former student-athlete at the school.

While the results of the medical investigation into McNair’s death were announced Friday, the investigation into the football program’s culture has not concluded. During the open session of Friday’s board meeting, USM Chancellor Robert Caret said there is no deadline for that investigation but he expects it to be finished by the end of September.

Even before the Walters report was released, the University of Maryland said it had made changes to prevent heat illness among athletes following preliminary recommendations from the investigation. Those changes included increasing the number of medical training staff at football practices and games; adding cooling stations for football practices and for some outdoor sports; and increasing the number and length of breaks at practices.

The university said it “enhanced” how it monitors student-athletes health and increased sports-related health training for athletic department staff. 

The report also recommended improving emergency action plans and putting an action plan in place for all facilities on the campus. Given the constant construction around the College Park campus, Walters said, practice for those plans should occur every day.

Another recommendation suggested the creation of an athletic medicine review board to provide oversight of sports medicine.

In addition to the implementing the recommendations at College Park, Brady said the report would be used as a guideline systemwide.

“We can and we must learn from what happened and how it was handled and make any appropriate changes to make sure that it never happens again,” he said.


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