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The University of Maryland recently announced changes to its protocols for athlete healthcare and medical intervention in response to football player Jordan McNair’s death from heatstroke in June 2018. Meeting recommendations to address issues that contributed to the player’s death, the university launched a national search for a new head team physician, among other changes.
The sports editor from The Diamondback, UMD’s independent student-run newspaper, joins us for an update.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Andy Kostka Sports editor, football and basketball writer, The Diamondback; @afkostka
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast the $20 bill was supposed to feature Maryland abolitionist, Harriet Tubman in a redesign for 2020. It won't happen for another eight years. We discuss the reasons along with the new park that marks her birth place on the eastern shore.
KOJO NNAMDIBut first, last June football player Jordan McNair died of heat stroke during a practice at the University of Maryland. After investigations faulted the response of the university's athletic staff in the player's death, the University of Maryland is taking steps to meet recommendations for overhauling its healthcare for athletes. Joining me in studio is Andy Kostka. He is a sports editor for The Diamondback, the University of Maryland student run newspaper. Andy, thank you for joining us.
ANDY KOSTKAThanks for having me.
NNAMDICan you remind us what happened to Jordan McNair?
KOSTKAYeah. So it was May 29, 2018. So we're looking at 366 days ago, I guess, was his final workout and he suffered heat stroke at that workout. He had a series of 10, 110 yards sprints and he made the time on the first seven of those and then struggled to complete the final three before the onset of his symptoms. And it took a while for athletic training staff to recognize his symptoms. It took 34 minutes before they took him off the field and another 30 minutes before they called 9-1-1. And then two hours before he reached Washington Adventist Hospital with his heat stroke, and he never received the ice bath and cold water immersion that he likely would have needed.
NNAMDIAnd at some point during his stay in the hospital he had to have a liver transplant.
NNAMDIIs that correct?
NNAMDIHe nevertheless passed away immediately following his death. How did the university respond?
KOSTKAI think the response immediately after his death was a bit -- well, around the campus there was a bit of shock from students and definitely student athletes and his teammates. I think it took a little bit of time before the investigation really took off though. It took the ESPN report in August to spur the first report, which is the Walters investigation and then a little bit after that was the report into a toxic culture. Once the ESPN report came out that's when things started to pick up.
NNAMDIBecause in between them there was a lot of crazy stuff going on, the Board of Regions telling the president that he couldn't fire the football coach, then the Board of Regions themselves having to step back, and the president maintaining his position before we really got to the health issues involved. University of Maryland recently announced major changes to its athletic medical structure following recommendations made after Jordan McNair's death. What are they and what problems do they address?
KOSTKAYeah, so they just announced that they will separate the football medical system or the healthcare system from under the athletic department control and move it to the health center.
NNAMDIWas that a recommendation from the Walters investigation? Dr. Rod Walters, I think is his name.
KOSTKADr. Rod Walters, he was okay with the athletic trainers remaining in the athletic department control. They reported to Steve Nordwall who is kind of the head athletic trainer and then he reported to Valerie Cothran, who works for the University of Maryland Medical System or school in Baltimore.
KOSTKASo there was a little bit of separation already there that they reported elsewhere. But this move -- and Walters was fine with keeping that system as long as miscommunications were amended and there was a bit more oversight in the system. Things that, you know, added up that kind of factored into maybe some of the short falls in Jordan McNair's eventual death. This plans separates it so that -- they're moving the head physician for football into the University Health Center in College Park, and the head physician will control the athletic trainers as well. They'll have supervision over them.
KOSTKAIt's trying to separate the medical setup from the athletic department and kind of move it externally. Although there's still a little bit of concern because the university still controls the setup.
NNAMDILet me see if I got this clear. The athletic trainers will no longer be under the Department of Athletics. They'll be under the Health Department.
NNAMDIAnd there's going to be a head team physician as yet not hired, who will be over them all and they will all be in the Health Department on the campus of the University of Maryland.
KOSTKAYeah, so currently there is a head team physician and that's Valerie Cothran.
NNAMDIBut she's in Baltimore.
KOSTKAShe's in Baltimore. They're hiring a new one. In the meantime, Valerie Cothran will still be the head team physician, but once they hire the new team physician that might take a couple of months that is when the move will happen. The new team physician will work for the Health Center outside of the Athletic Department. And the athletic trainers will be under his or her supervision.
NNAMDIAnd they'll all be on campus.
KOSTKAThey will all be on campus.
NNAMDIWhich in the view of some people means that there might still be too close to the Athletic Department.
KOSTKAYeah, I think some people might have that view. I think what -- there was a teleconference last week with Dr. Rod Walters and Damon Evans, the athletic director. And they said that they liked the locality keeping it close. You know, they felt they had a little bit more responsiveness rather trying to get to Baltimore, you know, during rush hour traffic that is a tough thing to do. So that is the one side of it. And the other side is that, you know, it's still under university control, which some people are unsure of.
NNAMDIYeah, getting to Baltimore in rush hour used to be a headache. Now it's a migraine. What's the timeline for hiring the new head team physician?
KOSTKAYeah, Damon Evans in the teleconference he said it would take some time. I believe that's a couple months. It might not be in place by the time the home opener against Howard. I believe that's August 31st happens. So I do not know beyond it could take some time, which is the last update I heard.
NNAMDISo it's entirely possible that the start of the fall 2019 season may take place without a new head team physician being hired.
KOSTKAIt is possible. Yes. I think that they are taking solace in that they have made 19 other -- you know, that they've fulfilled 19 other recommendations from Dr. Rod Walters. And, you know, the strength and conditioning coach is now under closer supervision with David Costner, when before it was confusion over who the strength and conditioning coach actually reported too. So they believe that the steps have been made that maybe safeguard.
NNAMDIYes, because there were all kinds of allegations that the strength and conditioning coach was abusive --
NNAMDI-- Both physically and verbally. You talked with some students over the weekend. How are student athletes and the larger University of Maryland community responding to these changes?
KOSTKAI think the larger University of Maryland campus, maybe the students, there's always going to be a little bit of uncertainty with anything this administration does just because of the past and maybe the buildup of mistrust with the administration and the campus body for a number of reasons. I believe, you know, they feel like they have at least taken the steps. They've tried to make amends. So there is a little bit of, you know -- they like that they are at least making an effort to amend the things that went wrong a year ago.
NNAMDIWell, as a student yourself at the University of Maryland, do you think the university's responses are adequate in addressing Jordan McNair's death?
KOSTKAI guess as a student I don't totally know how I stand. I know as a reporter I like to stay a little bit more detached from giving an opinion on air to be honest.
NNAMDII thought as much. You're not an opinion columnist.
KOSTKANo. I do not get paid for that.
NNAMDIRichard in Northern Virginia has an opinion. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDWell, how many student athletes are going to have to be injured or die before somebody gets the idea that maybe this is not worthwhile to have as an entertainment or something for students to do in college football? How many kids have to be paralyzed or injured or have brain concussions etcetera before we get smart enough to say, "Hey, this is not good. You know, this is not good for people."
NNAMDIOf course, this is a national conversation that does not start at the college level. It actually starts at the pewee level football and goes all the way to professional football, but does that sentiment exist on campus at all?
KOSTKAYeah, there was an opinion columnist for The Diamondback, who did say, "Why do we have a football?" And there's a million reasons I think we do have a football team. I don't believe Maryland will ever not have a football team. It's not really a thing that's, you know, going to change in the future, but I do think there is a sect that wonders, you know, why are playing a violent sport that can result in brain injuries and death.
NNAMDIThe death of Jordan McNair still has rippling effects throughout the University of Maryland's football team. You recently wrote a story about how players, who were being drafted by NFL teams or being considered by NFL teams are often asked about McNair's death. What did you find out from talking with those players?
KOSTKAYeah. I talked to a few at Maryland's Pro Day before the NFL draft and they said it was a common topic they were asked. Basically the reason they were being asked was teams like to know how people deal with adversity. They like to know, you know, how do they get through it. How they come together as a team? How did they make a very non-normal season as close to normal as they could have? And so these players were often asked, which just do they deal with it? How do they keep Jordan's memory, you know, ongoing? How did they, you know, respect or get through all the attention off the field and focus on the on field matter? So I think they were peppered with questions like that. And, I mean, there were plenty of players drafted this year from Maryland.
NNAMDIBecause the NFL teams are looking for players who are, let's face it, mentally tough.
NNAMDIAnd so they're looking to see how they would handle adversity if it pops up again in the future, because as the previous caller pointed out the dangers of playing professional football are now well known. And so, I guess, teams want to know before a player comes aboard exactly how are you likely to handle this situation. Here is Joel in Washington D.C. Joel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOELHi. I would have expected that the university would have learned something about the importance of speed in problems like this. Yet last semester there was this girl -- I'm sorry I have forgotten her name, who was very very sick, a student who had first gotten sick because of the condition of the dormitories. And they withheld with 18 days the fact that there was Adenovirus going through the campus and that was she finally died of. But they had no idea that she had a virus and they were treating it in the completely wrong way, whereas if they had announced that right away most likely she would have lived. You'd think that somehow the idea would have occurred to someone that speed is of the essence when talking about the health of the students.
NNAMDIIndeed. Our guest, Andy Kostka, sports editor for The Diamondback -- make the connection with the Adenovirus outbreak that occurred on campus. Can you explain in more detail than our caller did what happened there?
KOSTKAYeah. So it was Olivia Paregol, was a freshmen at the University of Maryland and she died in the first semester from Adenovirus. She had a compromised immune system from Crohn's Disease. So the specific strain affected her worse than maybe it would have other people, who had identifiers. And it took the Health Center 18 days to officially announce it. I believe it was about 13 days before David McBride, the director of the Health Center actually told the Paregol family there was an outbreak of this.
KOSTKACommenting on how they learn speed, I don't know exactly. But there definitely is some sentiment from some people that there's concern that, "Oh, we're going to move the athletic training staff to the Health Center, the place just, you know, had some difficulties earlier this semester." You know, that's a concern maybe for some people.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call Joel. Here is Shawn in College Park, Maryland. Shawn identifies as a University of Maryland student. Shawn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHAWNYeah, hi. I know that you guys are talking about like kind of is the student sentiment. I know that I'm involved with like a couple of orientations. I'm also part of the Residence Hall Association, which is like a student government on campus. And a lot of the opinion right now is we just don't know yet about these changes and what like the football program is doing. I know you mentioned earlier like, "We just -- we're going to wait and see." Right now since it's the off season, it's not really in the public eye.
SHAWNSo were really like -- we've really hoping that like in the fall like these changes are really going to take effect. And we're going to see a huge improvement. And we're going to probably hear from players, as a lot of us knows players individually, like we're basically hoping that people feel a lot more safe and more comfortable, you know, training with our Maryland football team.
NNAMDIThat probably is a pervasive sentiment on campus, isn't it?
KOSTKAYeah. That is definitely echoed by many people.
NNAMDIPeople want to see exactly how the Health Center will be operating and if it will be operating effectively. We're talking with Andy Kostka. He is a sports editor for The Diamondback, the University of Maryland's student run newspaper. Thank you so much for talking with us.
KOSTKAI appreciate it. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to go have to take a short break. And when we come back, the $20 bill was supposed to feature Maryland abolitionist Harriet Tubman in a redesign for 2020. It won't be happening for another eight years. We'll talk about the reasons along with the new park that marks her birth place on the Eastern Shore. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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