Ken’s Column: Drive to win costs a football player his life

Published 10:29 pm Monday, August 27, 2018

By Ken Gustafson


AMERICUS — About two weeks ago, another scandal in college football reared its ugly head. However, unlike the Urban Meyer scandal, this one cost somebody’s life. According to ESPN Staff Writer Tom Van Haaren, on May 29, University of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair was hospitalized after showing signs of heatstroke and exhaustion while working out with the team. McNair was having difficulty running 110-yard sprints. Sources told that McNair wasn’t able to finish the sprints on his own strength and was eventually walked around the practice field before being taken to the hospital. While at the hospital, McNair was found to have a body temperature of 106 degrees.

Two weeks later, McNair died at the hospital at the age of 19. ESPN learned that heatstroke was the cause of death.

A week ago, the University of Maryland placed head football coach D.J. Durkin and head strength and conditioning coach Rick Court on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. According to published reports, just a few days ago, Court was fired from his job.

According to Van Haaren, along with ESPN reporters Heather Dinich and Adam Rittenberg, over the past several weeks, two current Maryland players, several people close to the program and football staffers told ESPN, “There is a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation.” The source went on to say that a player holding a meal during a meeting had the meal slapped out of his hands in front of the team. The source also said that there were times when small weights were thrown in the direction of players when Coach Court was angry. ESPN reporters were told that belittling, humiliation and embarrassment of players is common at Maryland. One example of this is that a player who the coaches wanted to lose weight, was forced to eat candy bars while being forced to watch his teammates work out. There have been allegations of Maryland coaches forcing players to overeat or eat until they vomit.

According to ESPN, several Maryland football players and those close to the program have described a “toxic coaching culture” under Durkin. One former Maryland staff member told ESPN: “I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there.”

In my last column, I talked about the obsession of winning at all costs for the sake of the love of money. In the case of Maryland, this is far worse. A player died on their watch. If the allegations against Durkin and the rest of his staff are proven to be true, he and his whole staff should all be fired. Any person in his or her right mind would agree that there is no excuse for this type of alleged mistreatment and bullying of players. You want players to play for you and work hard for you? Treat them with respect and dignity. You need them to be healthy and willing to work for you when the season starts.

Here in our area, we should be very thankful that we have three great high school coaches: Larry Harold (Americus-Sumter), Rod Murray (Southland Academy) and Darren Alford (Schley County). These are men of great character and integrity. Yes, they’re tough on their players when they have to be, but they’re not abuse. They love their players. Though they want to win state championships, they see the bigger picture. They are there to teach life skills beyond the football field. They want to see their players succeed in life as husbands, fathers, and good citizens. To be fair, not every coach at a big-time college program is like what is being described at Maryland. Mark Richt is an example of a coach at a big-time program who wants to win the highest prize, but not at all costs. He loves his players and understands that their success in life is more important than even winning a national championship. He was under a lot of pressure to “win it all” during his last few years at Georgia. Georgia has won only one national title. Miami has won five. I fear that if he doesn’t win the Hurricanes another national title, he will be swallowed up by the “win at all costs” monster.


Ken Gustafson is sports editor, Americus Times-Recorder. Contact him at or 229-924-2751.