Officials with the university, the University System of Maryland and the attorney general’s office declined to comment until after the board acts on the proposed settlement. For the settlement to be completed, it will require the approval of two of the three members of the board, the state body charged with overseeing state spending, including contracts and legal settlements: Gov. Larry Hogan (R), State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D).
A spokesperson for Franchot declined to comment Friday, and neither the governor’s office nor Kopp returned messages seeking comment.
The University of Maryland in College Park would be responsible for covering settlement costs, according to a person familiar with the agreement.
The payment is to settle all claims made by McNair’s parents, Martin McNair and Tonya Wilson, as well as McNair’s estate, according to the board’s agenda.
“Marty and Tonya are relieved that this fight is over and to put this behind them as they continue to mourn Jordan’s death,” Hassan Murphy, the family’s attorney, said in a statement. “They are committed to channeling their grief and loss into the work that remains to protect the lives of student-athletes around the world by educating them about the signs and risks of exertional heat stroke.”
Maryland law caps monetary awards in wrongful death claims at $2 million in most cases, but this settlement was allowed to exceed the cap because it would resolve all claims, including any against potential individuals, according to a person familiar with the proposed agreement.
“We, as a firm, are committed to working with [McNair’s parents] and the Maryland Legislature to reform the tort laws of this state so that no family’s recovery is potentially limited by law to an amount that is less than what the responsible party received on his way out the door,” Murphy said in a statement, an apparent reference to former Maryland head coach DJ Durkin.
Not long after McNair’s death, university officials acknowledged that Maryland’s medical staff failed to properly diagnose heatstroke and treat McNair. An independent investigation conducted in 2018 by an athletic training consulting firm outlined several critical mistakes that led to McNair’s death. Death from heatstroke is 100 percent preventable, experts say, if the individual is immersed in cool water quickly. Maryland’s staff never took McNair’s temperature and did not ice his body to lower his temperature.
More than an hour passed between the time McNair began experiencing symptoms of heatstroke and when school officials called 911. McNair arrived at the hospital more than 1½ hours after he began suffering from cramps and showing signs of exhaustion. He died 15 days later.
University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, who retired last year, said in August 2018 the university “accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made on the fateful workout day of May 29.”
Footage from security cameras, obtained through an open records request, showed Maryland’s players running sprints and McNair’s teammates physically helping him complete the exercise.
McNair’s death prompted two independent investigations — one led by athletic training consultant Rod Walters that detailed how Maryland’s staff failed to properly diagnose and treat McNair, as well as a second probe, conducted by an eight-person commission, that investigated allegations of an abusive culture in the program.
Maryland’s athletic department says it implemented the recommendations outlined in these reports, which included overhauling its model for athlete health care. Maryland’s sports medicine staff is now independent of the athletic department, and the head physician reports to the director of the University Health Center.
McNair’s death rocked the Terrapins’ football program. In the months that followed, some Maryland players alleged instances of bullying and abuse within the program. Many of the allegations centered around Rick Court, the team’s strength and conditioning coach. In the wake of those media reports, Durkin was placed on paid administrative leave before the 2018 season. Court negotiated a settlement with the school and resigned.
The second independent investigation that focused on the program’s culture found Maryland football “did not have a ‘toxic culture,’ but it did have a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out,” the commission’s report said.
Following a recommendation from the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, Durkin was reinstated despite Loh’s recommendation that the school part ways with the coach. Durkin returned to the team Oct. 30, 2018, and three players walked out of a team meeting in protest. Following backlash from state lawmakers, students and the community, Maryland fired Durkin the following day. The university also fired two athletic trainers involved with the treatment of McNair.
The Maryland football team finished the 2018 season under interim coach Matt Canada. The university hired Coach Michael Locksley in December 2018, and Locksley did not retain any of the on-field assistants who were part of Durkin’s staff.
Durkin’s contract with the university runs through the end of 2021. Maryland owed Durkin 65 percent of his remaining contract, with half of the buyout paid within 60 days of his firing. According to the Baltimore Sun’s public salary database, the university paid Durkin $4,793,000 in 2018, which also includes earnings that year before his firing, and $860,000 in 2019. After a brief hiatus from on-field coaching, Durkin is the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Mississippi.
Erin Cox contributed to this report.