Maryland Football and the Walters Report on the Death of Jordan McNair

Jordan McNair was an offensive lineman for the University of Maryland football team who died on June 13, 2018, approximately two weeks after sustaining an Exertional Heat Stroke at a Maryland football practice. While details on the circumstances of McNair’s death were initially unclear, an external investigation of the events was commissioned by the University and began on June 25, 2018. The investigation was performed by Dr. Rod Walters and “Walters Inc. – Consultant in Sports Medicine”, who released their findings on September 21, 2018 in a report entitled An Independent Evaluation of Procedures and Protocols Related to the June 2018 Death of a University of Maryland Football Student-athlete.

The report, also known as the Walters Report, details the University of Maryland’s emergency policies and practices, Jordan McNair’s incident on May 29, 2018, statements from witnesses, “Incidental Review” of many University safety and monitoring practices, provides commentary in regards to each prong of the investigation, and concludes with observations, a recommendation, and a general discussion of the reports findings.

The Walters Report revealed an overall failure by the athletic training staff to adhere to the University of Maryland Sports Medicine Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Deviating from the EAP contributed to the athletic training staff’s failure “to rapidly recognize (the) exertional heat illness” Jordan McNair was experiencing, and when the illness was recognized, inadequate treatment was performed by the medical and training staff. These repeated issues, combined with an apparent lack of urgency in transporting Jordan McNair to Washington Adventist Hospital, played large roles in the young man’s death.

Jordan McNair

The Walters Report revealed many details about Jordan McNair’s overall health. As an offensive lineman, Jordan McNair’s position coach and the Assistant Athletic Director – Director of Football Performance reported that his target weight was 325 pounds. The University of Maryland staff weighs the players everyday for all practice sessions, and coming off of a several week vacation, Jordan McNair was sixteen pounds “overweight” on the day of the incident. He had gained nine pounds during the vacation, but this was not a “red alert”, according to coaches, and there was no existing weight improvement plan for Jordan McNair. Additionally, Jordan McNair is known to have had a Vitamin D deficiency while also being prescribed “a stimulant medication used to treat Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).” The Walters Report notes that certain medications and supplements increase the risk for Exertional Heat Stroke, including “diuretics, antihistamines, CNS stimulants, (and) antidepressants.”

May 29, 2018 

The most troublesome facts uncovered by the Walters Report were the multiple failures and oversights by the University of Maryland’s coaches, athletic trainers, and medical staff. The football team’s practice was unexpectedly moved from the football stadium to the practice fields on May 29th, so the EAP was not followed by trainers who were forced to prepare for practice in a shorter amount of time than usual. Specific to Jordan McNair’s incident, there was no cold tub, or any other type of cooling apparatus, that would generally be a part of the field setup.

The Walters Report also indicates that recording rectal temperature and gastrointestinal temperature are the most accurate ways to assess an individual’s core body temperature. Additionally, when an individual is determined to have reached a hyperthermic state, ice-water and cold-water immersion within thirty minutes are the recommended treatments to avoid “a significant increase in organ damage, morbidity, and mortality.” The report documents that Jordan McNair’s core body temperature was never established, monitored, or recorded. Additionally, there is evidence that thirty-four minutes passed from the onset of Jordan McNair’s symptoms to the time in which he was removed from the field, where he was treated with cold towels, but not any type of ice-water or cold-water immersion. Another nearly twenty-four minutes passed before Jordan McNair’s mood changed, prompting a 911 call and EMS being dispatched to the scene. Over an hour and a half passed between Jordan McNair’s initial symptoms of Exertional Heat Stroke and his arrival at Washington Adventist Hospital that day.

Dr. Walters’ Criticism Extends Beyond Trainers

In the closing sections, the Walters Report identifies many other faults beyond the athletic training staff and physicians on duty the day Jordan McNair suffered Exertional Heat Stroke. The report focuses heavily on the EAP, and details many ways the EAP should be applied and enforced going forward. Dr. Walters recommends a venue-specific EAP, to combat being unprepared when practice sites are changed last-minute, as was the case on May 29th. He also suggests adjusting the EAP in times of construction (which was occurring on campus at also delayed the ambulance response time), as well as increased distribution of these EAPs.   In addition, Walters recommended that medical staff and trainers receive EAP training at least once a year.

The Walters report also points out that there was no fitness test administered to assess the condition of the student-athletes upon their return to the practice field from vacation.  Moreover, there was a “complacency” in regards to the intensity of the workout and the mildness of the weather on the day of Jordan McNair’s injury.

Additionally, Dr. Walters states in this report that he is of the opinion that anyone ” with oversight, influence, or impacting personnel caring for the health and welfare of student-athletes should be outside the influence of coaches.” Though not mentioning Head-Coach-on-Administrative-Leave D.J. Durkin by name anywhere in the Walters Report, Dr. Walters differentiates professional athletes, who have agents looking out for their personal interests, from student-athletes who he says ” rely on the university endorsed medical providers to protect their welfare”. This opinion would likely be validated by the fact that the Walters Report included quotes from two unnamed student athletes who claimed Head Football Athletic Trainer Wes Robinson instructed interns to move or drag Jordan McNair off the field when he started to show symptoms of Exertional Heat Stroke.

The University of Maryland Football Program Going Forward

The fallout at the University of Maryland due to the death of Jordan McNair is far from over. It has been reported that there has been a “toxic coaching culture under head coach D.J. Durkin” at the University of Maryland, and there is a second investigation still ongoing in regards to Durkin facilitating an “environment based on fear and intimidation.” Additionally, Jordan McNair’s parents could potentially file a lawsuit “arguing negligence, wrongful death and violations of civil rights, among other claims” and the Prince George County State Attorney’s office is also considering criminal charges, pending the conclusion of the second investigation and the release of a non-redacted Walters Report.  However, the University’s public acceptance of “legal and moral responsibility” for Jordan McNair’s death could suggest that any lawsuit brought by the family would be very likely to settle.

In the meantime, the Maryland Terrapins football program will continue to move forward under Interim Head Coach Matt Canada, who is hopefully working to change the alleged “toxic” culture created by D.J. Durkin. The family of Jordan McNair, however, will wait and continue to grieve.

Photo Courtesy: Daniel Kucin Jr./The Washington Informer

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