University of Maryland students protest, football coach fired following athlete's heatstroke-related death last spring
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
November 06, 2018, 11:47:32 AM EST
Preliminary weather data shows that conditions on May 29, 2018, started out on a warm note in College Park, Maryland. This was the date and location of University of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s collapse from a heatstroke at a football preseason workout.
“Temperatures climbed to the day's high of 83 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just a few degrees above normal, but high dew points made for a sweltering day,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.
That day, 19-year-old McNair fell ill after a conditioning test that consisted of 10 110-yard sprints. He was subsequently hospitalized, the Baltimore Sun reported.
About two weeks after his initial collapse, the student-athlete died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Five months later, head coach DJ Durkin, who had been on administrative leave since Aug. 11, was reinstated by the university after accepting the recommendation of the Board of Regents to do so, according to Sports Illustrated.
The decision led to plans for a protest from outraged University of Maryland students demanding justice for McNair. On Oct. 31, just a day after Durkin’s reinstatement, the university fired the coach.
University of Maryland President Wallace Loh released a letter stating that “the overwhelming majority of stakeholders expressed serious concerns” about Durkin’s return and that the decision to fire him “is in the best interest of the University,” the Washington Business Journal reported.
Concerns surrounding McNair’s death
Following McNair’s death, there were reportedly allegations of a “toxic culture” within Maryland’s football program. In August, Athletic Director Damon Evans said in Baltimore during an apology to McNair’s family and an announcement of the university taking legal and moral responsibility for circumstances surrounding the tragic incident: “Care we provided was not consistent with best practices,” according to the Baltimore Sun.
In September, former college athletic trainer Dr. Rod Walters released a 74-page report and presented findings to the Board of Regents at Towson University, which included that Maryland’s Emergency Action Plan “meets guidelines, but staff failed to implement established best practices guidelines,” according to the Testudo Times.
The report detailed several mistakes that led to McNair’s death, including that McNair’s temperature wasn’t taken, which is recommended by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for athletes exhibiting signs of heatstroke.
McNair was also not placed in a cold tub.
“When you have heat exhaustion, which is down at the second level after heat cramps, heat exhaustion then becomes heatstroke once the body’s core temperature gets over about 104 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Ian Klein, a lecturer and exercise physiology researcher at Ohio University.
“At this point, you’re no longer sweating, and the way that the body cools itself down through sweating basically shuts down,” Klein told AccuWeather.
The individual would need to be cooled down manually in this case.
“Placing them in cold water immersion, which is basically an ice tub or a whirlpool of water that is under 55 F and as cool as 40 F, can rapidly cool the body, which it needs in order to prevent any increases in body temperature,” he said.
According to Walters’ report, cooling was attempted with cold towels and ice packs.
“Sometimes, cooling the body with cool towels can work, but it doesn’t cool as fast as it would in a cold immersion tank,” said Klein.
The report also noted that more than an hour had passed between McNair’s first signs of heatstroke and when university officials called 911, according to the Baltimore Sun.
“The key to successful treatment of exertional heatstroke or heat-related illness is early identification,” said Dr. Joshua Blomgren, a sports medicine physician at Chicago-based Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. He added that the morbidity and mortality from heatstroke is related to the time that the body spends above 104 F.
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“Once identified, aggressive measures to decrease the athlete's temperature is imperative to prevent significant complications, and based on research/data, the standard of care should be cold water immersion,” Blomgren told AccuWeather.
Football players more vulnerable
A 2016 study found that heat stroke and heat exhaustion are most likely to impact college football players during the first two weeks of preseason practice, and the risk rises with higher temperatures, Reuters reported.
“The body has the ability to acclimatize to the heat, but often, athletes are not given the appropriate amount of time to do this prior to the most rigorous preseason workouts,” Blomgren said.
Football players also tend to face the highest risk of heat-related illnesses. About 70 percent of heat-related illnesses occur among football players, according to Klein. This is mainly due to the fact that their padding and clothing can trap in heat, as well as their larger size.
“The larger the size of an individual, the harder it is for them to dissipate and get rid of that heat,” Klein said.
AccuWeather reached out to Martin McNair, Jordan’s father and co-founder of the Jordan McNair Foundation, but McNair and his legal team declined comment.
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