“I’d like to say today is a victorious day in the larger scale and not from a monetary perspective by no means because there’s no way you could ever put a price that would equate the loss of a loved one,” Martin McNair, the player’s father, said Wednesday during a news conference. “However, this has been a painful fight, a very emotional fight.”
The University of Maryland in College Park will cover the settlement costs, and the payment will settle all claims made by McNair’s parents, Martin McNair and Tonya Wilson, as well as McNair’s estate. Maryland law typically caps monetary awards in wrongful death claims at $400,000, but this settlement was allowed to exceed the cap because it will resolve all claims, including any against potential individuals.
“Since day one, we demanded justice and demanded a full investigation into what happened and into the actions of the leaders of the university and the university system,” Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said at the outset of Wednesday’s meeting. "… It is my sincere hope, that at least in some small way, [the settlement] will bring some measure of relief, some sense of justice and some measure of closure for Martin and for Tonya and their entire family.”
Wednesday’s vote marks the end of a saga that sparked two investigations, cost DJ Durkin his job as Terrapins head coach, hastened the departure of Wallace Loh as school president and prompted the resignation of James T. Brady as chair of the University System of Maryland’s board of regents.
“There is nothing more important for our student-athletes than their health and safety,” Darryll J. Pines, who took over as school president last year, said in a statement. “In partnership with the Jordan McNair Foundation, we will cement Jordan’s legacy and enhance a culture of player safety that will forever be a hallmark of Maryland Athletics.”
The agreement required the approval of two of the three members of the board: Hogan (R), State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D).
“No amount of money is ever going to bring back Jordan to his family, to Martin McNair or Tonya Wilson,” Franchot said. “But I’m delighted to be able to vote in favor of it. And I hope the settlement will provide some solace to the family and serve as a formal acknowledgment of negligence from the university over Jordan’s tragic death. And quite frankly, the fact of the matter is, the McNair family entrusted the University of Maryland with Jordan’s care. And quite frankly, obviously, a number of people failed him.”
As part of the settlement, the University of Maryland will partner with the Jordan McNair Foundation, which aims to educate communities about heat-related illnesses.
Maryland Athletics will donate $50,000 to the foundation in each of next two years. The university also will take part in joint marketing and fundraising efforts to help extend the foundation’s reach, including preliminary plans to hold an annual Jordan McNair Foundation football game. Health and safety programming that focuses on topics such as heat exertion, concussions, mental health and nutrition also will be available to athletes through this partnership.
“This partnership will not only continue Jordan’s legacy but will create a lasting impact on the health and safety of all current and future student-athletes here at Maryland and across the world,” said Maryland Coach Michael Locksley, who took over the football program in December 2018. “I want to personally thank Jordan’s parents, Marty and Tonya, for their selfless leadership in partnering with the University of Maryland to create something tangible that will educate and positively impact so many. Jordan will always be a part of our Maryland Football family.”
The death of McNair prompted two independent investigations: one that outlined the medical staff’s treatment of McNair and another that probed the culture of the program following allegations of bullying and abusive behavior. Both revealed major lapses, and in August 2018, after meeting with the McNair family, Loh said the school “accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made.”
The external investigations outlined dozens of recommendations to improve athlete health and safety at Maryland. The university’s athletic department says it implemented all of the changes, including an overhauled model for athlete health care that is independent of the athletic department. The head physician reports to the director of the University Health Center, rather than a superior in the athletic department. Maryland also implemented recommendations related to medical care, safety protocols and the department’s ability to respond to emergencies.
“It was a long time coming,” Kopp, the state treasurer, said of the settlement. “And the suffering involved is so difficult to measure, but it has to be recognized. … I know that the friends and family of Jordan McNair will be pleased to know that there really have been changes made since that terrible episode.”
After the completion of both investigations, Durkin was reinstated and then fired the following day amid public backlash. Durkin’s contract runs through the end of 2021. Because he was not fired for cause, Maryland owed the former coach a buyout of more than $5 million, with the final payments coming this year. Durkin is now the co-defensive coordinator at the University of Mississippi.
Following the 2018 season, Maryland overhauled its football staff and hired Locksley to lead the program. None of the previous on-field assistant coaches remained with the program under Locksley. The McNair family has a strong relationship with Locksley, who as offensive coordinator once recruited McNair and can relate to the family’s grief after losing his son Meiko in 2017.
McNair’s father attended Locksley’s public introduction after he was hired to lead the Terrapins. Their friendship helped smooth the relationship between the family and the football program. On the first anniversary of McNair’s death in 2019, Maryland’s football team participated in a health and wellness clinic hosted by the Jordan McNair Foundation. With the formal partnership included in the settlement, similar events and efforts will continue.
“The pain we pushed through and we continue to push through — the blessing is that we’re saving other lives,” McNair’s mother said. “As sad as it is — and I miss him every day — but yes, today is bigger than any NFL contract he would have had.”