COLLEGE PARK — Nearly a year after offensive lineman Jordan McNair suffered heatstroke at an offseason football workout that led to his death, the University of Maryland announced on Thursday it is implementing the last of 20 recommendations it received from its commission on student-athlete health and safety.
Maryland will restructure its athletic medical care model and hire a head team physician that reports to the director of the University Health Center and, ultimately, to the university president.
Rod Walters, who headed the school’s independent review and now chairs its newly-established athletic medical review board, told reporters the head physician should have the background of a sports medicine expert or an athletic trainer and be allowed “autonomous decision-making.” While the physician will oversee athletics, the position will be based in the campus’s University Health Center.
Another review board member, Matthew Leiszler, is the head football team physician at Notre Dame. Leiszler called the structure “a little bit unique at this point” but believes it’s starting to become the trend nationally.
“In order to provide independent medical care in a student-athlete-centered medical model, we thought the first priority was to move that out of athletics, specific for the University of Maryland,” Leiszler said. “As athletic departments are moving forward, I do anticipate this is going to be a trend and I’m really pleased the University of Maryland is really leading this trend within college athletics.”
Athletic director Damon Evans said the university will launch a national search to fill the head team physician role, a process he believed could take some months to complete.
National reports surfaced last August that former football coach D.J. Durkin fostered a culture of “fear and intimidation” within Maryland football. The Washington Post learned that former athletic director Kevin Anderson had recommended to president Wallace D. Loh a medical model independent of the athletic department, which would report to the university’s school of medicine located in Baltimore. Loh, however, nixed the idea.
Now, the university has decided to go forward with a plan similar to that model, but Walters and Evans emphasized that the head team physician will be based in College Park, not Baltimore, to be more integrated with the flagship campus.
“Obviously, geography was a concern,” Walters said. “Our recommendation was to make this a College Park-based program. Consultants are one thing, but (for) day-to-day care, we wanted to make sure there was some locality with that and proximity to the campus.”
He added that the football program’s head strength and conditioning coach, like other athletic trainers, now reports directly to the athletic director. During Durkin’s tenure, former strength and conditioning coach Rick Court reported directly to Durkin, and several players said Court often crossed the line with abusive language and habits.
McNair died June 13, 2018, two weeks after suffering heatstroke at a spring practice. Reports later found that the athletic training staff did not provide proper care to McNair before he was taken to the hospital, such as cold water immersion therapy, universally recommended for heatstroke victims.
“Most important to me, and to us as an institution, is that we get this right moving forward,” Evans said.
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