by Irvin Muchnick
The University of Maryland has made its second significant move in the media furor over the June heat stroke death of football player Jordan McNair: Strength and conditioning coach Rick Court resigned yesterday.
Court should have been fired for cause, instead of being allowed to negotiate a severance package worth more $300,000. But you can’t have everything, and all at once, when it comes to holding college football institutions to account. Maryland’s president, Wallace D. Loh, did publicly accept “legal and moral responsibility” for failures in medical attention to McNair when he collapsed during drills on May 29.
It remains to be seen whether the buck will stop with Court, or whether others currently on administrative leave pending an investigation that is expected to be completed next month, will also pay the price of their employment. These include the head football coach, DJ Durkin.
In the meantime, here’s a further note on the parallels between the McNair death and that of Ted Agu at the University of California-Berkeley in 2014, in an initially covered-up exertional attack associated with sickle cell trait. It starts with what Durkin told Sports Illustrated about Court in 2016:
“Rick Court, our strength coach, is our most important hire I made. That guy is unbelievable. When you’re changing a culture, that’s where it starts. And so we’ve flipped the world upside down on these guys. There have been struggles, but there hasn’t been any, This is garbage. None of that. [The players] want to be good. That’s all been good. There hasn’t been much pushback that way.
Rick and I are as about in line with how we see things as you can possibly be. There are 8,000 things coming your way, especially when you’re starting a new program. That’s one area I don’t have to worry about. The guy is relentless with his energy every day, but has a great rapport with the kids. He’s a guy that can coach guys hard, but they love him. It’s not where he’s yelling at you for no reason. He’s going to grind you, get after you. But the guys love him.”
Much the same could be said about Damon Harrington, who was head coach Sonny Dykes’ strength and conditioning assistant at Cal from 2013 through 2016, and whose bizarre punishment drill and culture of obscene hyper-machismo combined to doom Agu. Though Dykes isn’t on record explicitly calling Harrington his most important hire, the Golden Bears’ internal and external communications made it clear that Harrington had a key role in “changing the culture.” As players testified in depositions in the Agu family’s wrongful death lawsuit against the university, which settled for $4.75 million, the coach constantly reminded his charges that his role was to make sure Stanford would no longer “have their cock in your asses.”
When a player, Fabiano Hale, skipped one of Harrington’s conditioning drills three months before Agu perished, the coach doubled the rest of the players’ punishment and told them to take up the matter directly with their absent teammate. Slamming a fist into a palm, Harrington added, “By any means necessary.” The next day, J.D. Hinnant sucker-punched and kicked Hale, sending him to the emergency room with a concussion; Hinnant was rewarded with being suited up for the upcoming game.
(Dykes is now head coach at Southern Methodist University. Harrington is now strength and conditioning coach at Grambling State University.)
Concussion Inc.’s reporting has emphatically and redundantly established this theme. For readers in need of further proof of college football conditioning’s Russian-collusion-level defenses — at least 36 student-athletes have died of non-traumatic causes in practice or conditioning in this level of the sport since 2000 — there are the additional UC internal documents still imprisoned in our ongoing California Public Records Act case. On August 8, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Brand ordered the parties to “agree to a briefing schedule” for arguments over whether “the police report relating to the death of Ted Agu should be disclosed.”
We’ve shown the court the evidence of the existence of a campus police report totaling 141 pages. In court on August 1, the university acknowledged that there is “a binder” fitting this description and totaling 141 pages.
Judge Brand’s order is viewable at http://muchnick.net/judgebrandorder080818.pdf.
2017 op-ed article for the Daily Californian on my Public Records Act lawsuit: http://www.dailycal.org/2017/04/25/lawsuit-uc-regents-emblematic-issues-facing-college-football/
Second op-ed article for the Daily Californian (published May 4): http://www.dailycal.org/2018/05/03/years-later-questions-remain-regarding-football-player-ted-agus-death/
“Explainer: How ‘Insider’ Access Made San Francisco Chronicle and Berkeley J-School Miss Real Story Behind Death of Cal Football’s Ted Agu,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=10931
Complete headline links to our Ted Agu series: https://concussioninc.net/?p=10877