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Maryland Football Death Investigation Also Opens Probe for Integrity


It’s been 32 years since Len Bias’ death sent the University of Maryland lurching about for its soul.

When that search was over, the entire power structure of the athletic department and the university itself had been toppled and the school emerged sufficiently chastened with a better sense of right and wrong.

Three decades later, it may take another death, that of football player Jordan McNair, to force people at College Park and beyond to examine what the university and its athletics are really about.

An external review of patterns and practices of the football team in the wake of McNair’s June death is still to be completed, but a deep examination of the philosophy of the program has already begun.

An ESPN story published Friday portrayed the football program as possessing a toxic coaching culture, one where players were routinely humiliated and embarrassed and where coaches used fear and intimidation to get their points across.

The school initially placed members of the athletic staff on administrative leave, then put head coach D.J. Durkin on that same status as details of the alleged conduct began to take hold and horrify members of the Maryland community.

If the ESPN story is true, then it goes without saying that Durkin and the other coaches should be summarily fired.

Say whatever you want about the softness of today’s athlete, but no one deserves to have meals slapped out of their hands or to be forced to eat candy bars in front of teammates or to have weights thrown at them or to have obscenities repeatedly hurled at them, as was alleged in the article.

And a person who allows that kind of behavior to go on unchecked doesn’t deserve to be thought of as someone to mold and guide young adults, as coaches often fancy themselves to be.

Four years ago, Maryland President Wallace Loh yanked the school out of 60 years of membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a league with schools that shared a similar geographic footprint and athletic approach.

The move was done in secret and sprung on an alumni and fan base that was largely happy right where it was.

Loh, the former University of Iowa provost took Maryland into the Big Ten, a conference where the other members are largely a plane ride, not a car trip away, and where football is the dominant sport, not basketball, as it is in the ACC.

Durkin was an assistant at Michigan, a Big Ten school, before coming to Maryland, and has tried to bring a Big Ten mentality to a place where football has usually been a weigh station on the way to basketball.

While Maryland has reaped a financial bounty from switching leagues, it has come at the cost of its soul, in the minds of many, this alum included.

It took a long time for Maryland to regain its soul and a sense of integrity after Len Bias died, and part of that process began with a clean sweep of all who were in charge.

When the review of Jordan McNair’s death is completed, a similar housecleaning may be necessary as well, so that the red, white, black and gold can be raised high with pride again.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.
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