BALTIMORE — On Saturday morning, a group of about a dozen people gathered in a circle with Martin McNair leading a one-hour conversation. In the more than three months since the death of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair, McNair’s father has sought purpose in his son’s death through increasing the awareness and education of heat-related illnesses.
A few parents who attended the event wanted to learn what they can do to make sure what happened to McNair never happens to their children. A youth coach in the group, who recorded much of the discussion on his phone, says he is committed to ensuring his athletes never suffer the same fate. A 14-year-old asked how he can prevent this from happening to himself.
The Jordan McNair Foundation hosted this conversation at a community center, which features a small football training facility with an area now dedicated to McNair, who died in June after suffering heatstroke at a team workout. The university failed to properly diagnose and treat McNair, and Martin McNair spent Saturday morning helping others understand best practices in these areas.
Gavin Class, a former Towson offensive lineman who suffered from heatstroke during a practice in 2013, participated in the event. Class survived after a liver transplant and recently served as a source of hope for McNair’s family while McNair was in the hospital. Class mentioned how cold-water immersion saved his life, a treatment Maryland did not use with McNair.
“We need to empower parents to the point where if I come out on the practice field and I don’t see ice, my kid can’t practice,” Martin McNair said. “Then you’re starting to make some powerful change.”
Earlier this month, Texas offensive lineman Patrick Hudson was hospitalized due to a heat-related illness. The athletic training staff immersed Hudson in cold water before he was transported to the hospital, and Hudson survived.
Even during the recruiting process, McNair’s father said parents should know to ask about the program’s procedures related to heat-related illnesses and other medical issues their athletes might face while on the team.
On Tuesday, McNair’s parents appeared on HBO’s “Real Sports” in a piece that focused on college strength and conditioning coaches, who have significant roles in football programs and but often do not have sufficient health and safety education. The documentary looks at the issue on a broad scale and how similar deaths have occurred at other programs.
“Without question the role of the strength and conditioning coach has grown over time,” said Scott Anderson, the head athletic trainer at Oklahoma and a leader in the field who appeared in the HBO segment. “There should be some accountability that comes with that.”
Martin McNair warned against “one-size-fits-all” workouts, and if a player shows heatstroke symptoms, teammates should feel unafraid to stand up for that player’s well-being.
“We teach our kids to be good listeners and follow directions,” he said. “But still, if you have somebody in distress . . . ‘Hey, you can’t tell me to leave this guy because guess what, I may be the one that can speak up and save my brother or my teammate’s life.’ ”
He also said players should be willing to speak up to coaches about their own concerns and must remember “your body is your business."
Just after his son was hospitalized, McNair’s father said he “had to get a crash course in one night” about heatstrokes because he did not have the knowledge he now has. On Saturday, he likened his son’s condition to placing his body in a microwave.
Martin McNair said the NCAA and similar governing bodies need to make sure the information about heatstroke symptoms and treatment is properly disseminated to those involved in athletics. The education process about heat-related illnesses, he said, has to start at the high school level or younger. He sees events such as Saturday’s as the first step toward that goal.
“My last conversation with Jordan literally was May 28 because he never talked any more, other than a finger squeeze, from the time that this happened,” Martin McNair said. “That was our last conversation. These are things that obviously can be prevented so this won’t happen. Now that we’re knowing certain things, let’s try not to let this happen to somebody else’s kid.”