ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt closed his “SportsCenter” broadcast early Saturday morning with a commentary more personal than most, touching on the controversy swirling around the Maryland football program.
“Attack the story and defend the coach,” he said, “it’s what I say fans always do when something comes out about their favorite team. Then it’s your favorite team — my favorite team, a coach I know and like.”
Van Pelt has never tried to hide his devotion to his alma mater but has been publicly reserved regarding the brewing controversy in College Park, stemming from the June death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and other recent stories that have painted the football program in a negative light. Van Pelt acknowledged in his commentary that the Maryland athletics department might require major changes but stopped short of calling for anyone’s job.
He made clear that he has supported DJ Durkin, the Terps head coach who is currently on administrative leave. He said he took in a practice last season that was intense but, he said, not unusually so. Van Pelt pointed out that former Maryland players Perry Hills and Roman Braglio have both publicly vouched for Durkin, but “their thoughts have gotten very little traction,” he said.
“Perhaps you missed them. Perhaps given the thoughts on the matter from McNair’s father, Marty, you’re really not interested,” he continued. “And I understand that.”
The controversy has prompted two independent investigations aimed at examining both the May 29 workout that resulted in McNair’s death and the broader culture surrounding the football program, and Van Pelt said he is “sincerely interested to know just what it is that they determine.” While he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, he did admonish the school for being slow in acknowledging its mistakes.
“What I will never grasp is why it took two months to say as much,” he said. “I understand there were internal reviews ongoing, and those do take time. But public silence creates, at a minimum, the appearance that leadership wasn’t proactive in the months after McNair passed and before the story was written. And I imagine that will ultimately prove costly.”
The university said at a new conference last week that athletic trainers failed to diagnose or treat McNair for exertional heatstroke at the team workout. The 19-year old player died two weeks later, and the school’s leadership has said it takes “moral and legal responsibility” for McNair’s death.
“The fallout may be an entire reset of the culture across the university,” Van Pelt said. “They talk about fearless ideas there in College Park. Right now, it requires that. Look in the mirror and be honest with what you see, and know that whatever it is they — and we — aspire to be as a university, it has to be better than this most recent chapter.”
Van Pelt delivered the commentary in the waning minutes of “SportsCenter,” ESPN’s flagship news and highlights show. He’d said little publicly since Maryland’s program became enveloped in controversy two weeks ago.
Van Pelt, 52, graduated from Maryland in 1988. He is among the most high-profile alums to weigh in on the controversy in College Park. Last week former Terps quarterback Boomer Esiason, one of the most successful men to wear a Maryland football jersey, said university President Wallace Loh and Athletic Director Damon Evans have exhibited a “shameful lack of leadership” and said neither should remain with the school. In addition, McNair’s family has said that Durkin should not be allowed to return as head coach.
McNair collapsed during the workout and died June 13. The school has been confronted in recent weeks by headlines related to the culture surrounding the football program and the university’s actions concerning athlete medical care, in addition to reports about a 2017 sexual assault case, which prompted an attorney hired to defend Maryland players to call the athletics department a “dysfunctional viper pit.”
Maryland placed four employees on administrative leave this month, including Durkin. One of those employees, strength and condition coach Rick Court, resigned from his position.
The team opens its season next Saturday against Texas at FedEx Field.
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