In a scathing letter, the parents of Jordan McNair demanded an apology from the chair of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, calling his comments about the 19-year old football player’s death insensitive.
At issue are comments that the board chair, Brady, made to reporters Friday following the release of a report focused on the events that led to McNair’s death. Brady was asked: “Do you believe there was negligence here? Do you back up Dr. Loh’s acceptance of moral and legal responsibility?”
He answered: “I’m not in a position to make that call at this point in time. I think there is a lot of information we are gathering, and I’m not prepared to make that call. I am prepared to say that the death of this young man is a tragedy . . . We all feel deeply about that. We are in the process of gathering facts. I’m a fact guy. I like to know what the facts are before we make any conclusions.”
Maryland President Wallace D. Loh last month publicly accepted “legal and moral responsibility” for the mistakes that occurred at a May 29 team workout that ultimately led to McNair’s death, and the family took exception to Brady’s unwillingness to do the same. The letter states that “Jordan’s parents were deeply disturbed by this reversal, especially since now the facts surrounding Jordan’s death are obvious and unmistakable for the world to see.”
McNair was never diagnosed or properly treated for exertional heatstroke at the team workout and died 15 days later. Friday’s report, prepared by Walters Inc., an independent athletic consulting firm, highlighted many of the missteps school medical personnel made that day.
“Instead of culling the facts of this case and incorporating them into your analysis, you ignored them, whitewashed the findings of the Report, and then backtracked from President Loh’s statements,” said the letter, which was signed by Hassan Murphy, an attorney for the family. “The Board’s refusal to accept responsibility to Jordan’s death flies in the face of overwhelming public accounts that Jordan died because of the failures of the campus staff on May 29.”
A spokesman for the University System of Maryland said that a formal response is being prepared for the McNair family but reiterated that the board is “deeply saddened by the tragic death” of McNair.
“And while we can never make up for this loss, we can and must obtain all available information as to what happened on May 29 so we can ensure that a tragedy like this never occurs again on any of our campuses,” the spokesman said in a statement.
He noted that the board of regents is also overseeing a broader investigation into the culture of the football program, and the Attorney General’s office is reviewing the matter as well.
“We will not speculate, make judgments or attempt to apportion responsibility until all of these investigations are concluded and the Board of Regents has sufficient information to make the decisions necessary to better safeguard the well-being of student athletes at the University of Maryland, College Park and other USM institutions,” the spokesman said.
Brady was appointed to the board in 2015 by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), for whom he’d previously served as transition chief. He took over as chair the following year.
The McNair family has taken early steps to pursue legal action in connection with the player’s death, and Friday’s letter indicated a lawsuit might be inevitable.
“The McNair family had originally hoped that you and the Board would do the right thing here,” the letter stated. “It is now becoming clear that you are leaving the family no alternative but to establish legal and moral responsibility in a court of law.”
The family said the board had no intention of sharing the Walters report with the McNairs before making it public last week and only did so because the family “insisted on reviewing it before it was released.” The letter says Brady’s comments were part of a “continuing pattern of insensitivity toward the McNair family, motivated by your attempts to mitigate the tragedy and protect your and the University’s interests.”
Noting that Brady told reporters he’s a “fact guy,” the letter summarized a dozen points from the report that detailed the university’s missteps in diagnosing and treating McNair on May 29.
In addition to demanding an apology, the family asked for an accounting of actions the board made following other medical emergencies involving athletes in recent years, including Frostburg State’s Derek Sheely, who died in 2011; Morgan State’s Marquese Meadow, who died of complications related to heatstroke in 2014; and Towson’s Gavin Class, who suffered heatstroke in 2013 but survived.
“The facts that need to be disclosed now involve the systemic failures throughout the University System that preceded Jordan’s death, despite having actual knowledge that an incident like this had occurred before and the University took no actions to prevent it here,” the letter stated.
The family previously expressed appreciation for Loh accepting responsibility and in its letter to Brady on Tuesday said the school president was “widely praised for his decency, humanity and moral leadership.”
“Decency and transparency in leadership are critical for the family to move forward from the untimely — and completely unnecessary and thoroughly preventable — death of their son,” the letter stated.
Keith L. Alexander contributed.