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University Of Maryland Reeling After Reports Of 'Toxic Culture' Inside Football Program


The University of Maryland is reeling after reports this weekend surrounding the school's football program. ESPN lays out a story of a coaching environment of intimidation and fear. The sports network uncovered it while investigating the death of an offensive lineman, Jordan McNair. Now Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin and three other staff members are on leave pending an investigation. Joining me to talk about this is one of the reporters who's been working on this story, Adam Rittenberg of ESPN. Welcome.

ADAM RITTENBERG: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Briefly tell us what happened to Jordan McNair.

RITTENBERG: On May 29, Maryland had a team workout where McNair and the other players did a sequence of 110-yard sprints. Now, we've learned that towards the end of that sprint sequence, McNair began showing signs of extreme exhaustion, difficulty standing upright and had to be helped through that final sprint. Maryland contends that he did finish the sprint and then was cared for at that point. Through our reporting, we've also learned that the head athletic trainer, Wes Robinson, essentially said to drag him to the other drills. They weren't attending to him even though other eyewitnesses said that he was showing signs of struggling.

Basically around 5 p.m. - Maryland has doubted this at this point, but there's records that says that he had a seizure around that time and that 911 was called. About an hour later, he was taken to a hospital in Washington where he arrived with a temperature of 106 degrees. He was then transported to another facility in Baltimore where he died about two weeks later on June 13. We now know from the McNair family attorneys that Jordan McNair died of heat stroke.

KELLY: I should insert here that no official cause of death has been released. But let me ask you to connect the dots here and walk us through what led you from investigating his death to this much broader claim of an environment of intimidation and fear at Maryland. I mean, can you clearly prove a connection there?

RITTENBERG: Well, we believe we can. Before Jordan McNair even passed away, we were getting calls from inside the program saying that players are upset. And we talked to a number of people in June and in July, but I really think what got this story moving last week was Maryland resumed practices for the season on August 3. And we heard from sources that essentially the coaches had backed off a little bit in the intensity of things in July in the aftermath of Jordan McNair's passing, and then it essentially went back to normal as far as the culture, the behavior, the verbal abuse, the out-of-control - as far as how much time spent - the players were at the facility. And so then we started to make some more calls to people that were there and then trying to verify other things that we'd heard that had happened in the program since D.J. Durkin arrived at the end of 2015.

KELLY: But let me push you on this because, I mean, stories about grueling football workouts, about foulmouthed football coaches yelling at their players and trying to push them really hard - I mean, those stories have been around forever. They're part of the culture. Did you find something that was really far outside the bounds of normal when you investigated at University of Maryland?

RITTENBERG: You're absolutely right. That is part of the culture. And so in speaking to, you know, people who are still in college football, staff members who had left who were at other programs had been at other programs before Maryland, my main question was, you've been around. Was this behavior normal or abnormal? Was it excessive? Did they take it too far? And really everybody said this was not standard operating procedure for a competitive, testosterone-driven football program, that it went beyond that to a level of abuse that really troubled a lot of these people who are no longer at Maryland and even some that still are.

KELLY: Adam, thanks very much for sharing your reporting.

RITTENBERG: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That's the ESPN's Adam Rittenberg. Results of the University of Maryland's investigation into Jordan McNair's death are expected next month. The university has also launched a separate investigation into allegations of abusive and intimidating conduct, those uncovered by ESPN report.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MATTSON 2'S "SPACEMAN 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.