The independent investigator charged with reviewing the circumstances surrounding the death of a Maryland football player said that on two occasions the university athletic department tried to revamp the way medical care was delivered to athletes and shift oversight away from the College Park campus, according to previously redacted portions of an investigative report. Both times the proposals were nixed, the report stated.
The report, written by Walters Inc., an athletic training consulting firm, was released publicly Friday evening by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. It was largely unredacted, detailing the events and errors from the May 29 workout that resulted in the death of 19-year-old Jordan McNair. Nearly four pages, however, were blacked out and not made available until Saturday afternoon.
A University System of Maryland spokesman said in a statement: “In an abundance of caution, preliminary redaction decisions were made in accordance with Maryland law to protect, among other things, privileged communications and confidential personnel and medical information.
“In the hours since, the USM has had the opportunity to revisit those preliminary decisions and has determined that no redactions are necessary for this section of the report.”
The redacted portions pertain to plans the school considered that would have overhauled the way medical care was administered and delivered to athletes. One of the plans, which was initially reported on last month by The Washington Post, was proposed by Kevin Anderson, Maryland’s athletic director at the time, one year before McNair’s death and nixed by Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. The plan would have shifted the administration of medical services from the athletic department to the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, a different institution within the state’s system of public universities.
The Walters report also stated that, one year before that, Anderson wanted to sever its ties with the Baltimore medical school, whose physicians treat Maryland athletes, to enter into an agreement with MedStar Health.
“The Athletic Director’s interest in MedStar was reported as a financial one in that MedStar promised funding for Athletics if they switched contract from UMB to MedStar,” the report stated. “The University of Maryland had a significant and growing partnership with UMB and the President did not want to damage it by switching to MedStar and consequently rejected this proposal.”
The report made 27 recommendations related to medical care for athletes but did not suggest the university change its model. Damon Evans, who replaced Anderson as athletic director on an interim basis in October 2017 before being officially promoted to the role in June, indicated Friday that the school is not entertaining such an overhaul.
The Post reported last month on a memo from Anderson, dated May 19, 2017, that spelled out his second proposal, which would have brought the school more in line with NCAA recommendations, shifting its athletic trainers to the Baltimore medical school and making all medical personnel autonomous from any influence by the school’s athletic department. Loh rejected that plan because he did not want to cede control and oversight to another institution.
Speaking to reporters following Friday’s board of regents meeting, Loh offered an unprompted defense of Maryland’s model for medical care, saying: “Whether it is administratively overseen by University of Maryland Baltimore or University of Maryland College Park, that’s not the key issue. It’s not who pays the paychecks. It is who are the personnel, and the final word is always the physicians. It is not the coaches, and it is not the athletic department.”
In his report, Rod Walters, a longtime athletic trainer, outlined the different medical care models used by universities, noting that “both independent medical care and autonomy are priorities in the decision-making process.” The report stated that under a traditional model, medical care is housed within the athletic department, and in other models, athletic trainers and team physicians are employed by an associated medical school — or even an outside hospital or private group — and provide care for athletes.
The latter models have been endorsed by the NCAA and a variety of medical groups because, in theory, they free medical personnel of any potential conflicts, undue influence or unclear reporting lines. The report noted that at Maryland, trainers are employed by the athletic department but are also technically overseen by physicians from outside the school’s athletic department. The report said that “this line of organization meets the recommendation for removing conflict of interest.”
“Coaches do not have direct responsibility for the hiring or supervision of any member of the sports medicine staff, although a coach may be consulted about the performance of the athletic trainer assigned to his or her team,” the report states.
The NCAA adopted a measure in 2016 calling on schools to “establish an administrative structure that provides independent medical care,” which sports medical professionals say empowers athletic trainers and physicians to make health and safety decisions detached from the influence of coaches, athletic department officials or competitive concerns.
Asked how the school can ensure athletic trainers don’t feel pressure from coaches or others in the athletic department, Loh said: “For a very simple reason — that they are not allowed to do it, and furthermore, getting somebody back on the field is a determination of the physician and not the coach. Can a coach try to persuade? I suppose so. But that coach will be out of line.”
The Walters report listed several reasons Maryland rejected Anderson’s second proposal, including, “One perceived downfall of the transition would have been that UMCP would have lost the authority to hire, discipline and/or fire athletic trainers because these athletic trainers would have become employees of another institution.”
Anderson resigned in April at the end of a six-month sabbatical.
Under the department’s organizational flow chart, Steve Nordwall, the assistant athletic director who is on administrative leave, oversees all of the school’s athletic trainers. He, in turn, reports to both David Klossner, the associate athletic director of sports performance, and Valerie Cothran, a physician from the Baltimore-based medical school. Klossner also reports to Cothran but via a dotted-line reporting relationship.
“The trainers and doctors make the decisions and the determination when student athletes are cleared to go back and participate medically. Obviously, we’re going to continue to do that,” Evans told reporters Friday. “We need to continue to educate and monitor the situation, but those decisions are not in the purview of the coaching staff.”
The 74-page Walters report also included six pages of redacted memos and emails between school officials related to Anderson’s proposals. Those pages have not been made publicly available.