State of Maryland approves $3.5 million settlement for Jordan McNair's family

More than two years after Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair died from heatstroke he suffered during a football workout, Maryland state government officials swiftly and unanimously approved a $3.5 million settlement Wednesday from the University of Maryland to McNair's parents, Marty McNair and Tonya Wilson.

The 19-year-old from Randallstown, Maryland, collapsed during an outdoor Terrapins workout on May 29, 2018 -- the first conditioning practice of his sophomore season. He died two weeks later, on June 13.

As part of the settlement, Maryland announced a partnership with the Jordan McNair Foundation, a move that will bolster the organization's ability to educate the public and athletic programs across the country about topics such as heat exhaustion, concussions, mental health and nutrition.

Marty McNair said Jordan would have graduated from Maryland this spring, so they wanted to "keep his memory alive there."

"This has been a painful fight, a very emotional fight," Marty McNair said. "These three years have been painful, however I know that it prepared us for a larger- scale, nationwide advocacy to stop this from happening and truly make a difference. The only way we really can do this is not by talking effortless at people, but really to implement legislation and policy.

"This victory today shows a lot of people that -- guess what? It can be done. If there's a wrong to their child, or a loss of their child due to negligence along the way, it is possible to get a victory."

According to a copy of the settlement agreement, the University of Maryland's two-year partnership with the foundation includes a significant financial commitment that goes beyond the $3.5 million to the McNair family.

Maryland has agreed to create and fund a "defined student-athlete safety program in Jordan McNair's honor" that is estimated to cost $300,000 each year for a decade, using existing staff from Maryland Athletics and the University Health Center.

The agreement also states Maryland Athletics will be a $50,000 per year seed sponsor for the two-year period. Additionally, it will provide 10 complimentary football season tickets and four men's basketball season tickets for use by the McNair Foundation for the two-year period. There are also numerous other benefits for the foundation that are tied to one designated home football game each year to conduct on-site promotional activities and share in some of the revenue.

Questions surrounding McNair's death escalated after an August 2018 ESPN report in which several Maryland football players and people close to the program described a coaching culture based on fear and intimidation under former coach DJ Durkin. The report prompted two lengthy, external investigations into Maryland's football program.

The findings concluded that members of Maryland's athletic training staff failed to quickly diagnose and properly treat McNair's heatstroke symptoms, and ultimately resulted in the firing of Durkin, who was hired last January as an assistant coach by Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss.

During a virtual news conference on Wednesday with attorneys from Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, Wilson removed her glasses to wipe her tears as she said, "I miss him so much."

"The pain, we push through, and we continue to push through," she said. "The blessing is we're saving other lives."

While the settlement money comes directly from "unrestricted university funds," according to the university's general counsel, it had to be approved on Wednesday by the Maryland Board of Public Works, which is comprised of the state's governor, comptroller and treasurer.

Maryland comptroller Peter Franchot said he hopes it "will provide some solace to the family, [and] will serve as a formal acknowledgement of negligence from the university over Jordan's tragic death.

"The McNair family entrusted the University of Maryland with Jordan's care," Franchot said, "and quite frankly, a number of people failed him."

Mike Poterala, vice president for legal affairs and general counsel at Maryland, said Wednesday that when the external medical investigation began in the summer of 2018, the university learned "within a month of some of the mistakes that had been made that contributed to his unfortunate passing."

Since then, Poterala said, significant changes have been made, including reforms that included recognizing heat illness and having emergency preparedness plans in place and making sure everyone involved is trained in executing them.

Another critical change at Maryland was in the chain of command, as athletic team physicians and trainers no longer report to athletic administrators. Instead, they report to the University Health Center and its leading physician.

"There is no ability for people whose jobs depend on competitive wins and losses to influence independent medical judgment," Poterala said, "to make sure that student health and welfare receives the top priority as it should -- separate from what may be happening on the court or on the field."

Maryland has also implemented what amounts to a whistleblower system, an anonymous complaint system that allows any student-athlete at any time to submit a complaint about "any concern about how they're being treated." Poterala said that if there is "any whiff of inappropriate behavior, we hear about it early on and we deal with it swiftly.

"Those complaints don't just go to the administration in the athletic department," Poterala said. "They are seen firsthand by people outside that department, including me and our faculty athletic rep. We do not work in athletics; we have other responsibilities, and I say as the general counsel of this university, it's my job and that of my staff to protect everyone's welfare and everyone's rights."

The Maryland football program has also established the Jordan M. McNair Award for Courage, presented annually to the player "who reflects the spirit of McNair by showing great professionalism athletically and academically, dedication to his team, strength in the face of immense adversity, as well as courage and conviction to do the right thing." Maryland athletics will commemorate McNair's life by naming the Offensive Line Room in Cole Field House in his honor.

"This partnership will not only continue Jordan's legacy, but will create a lasting impact on the health and safety of all current and future student-athletes here at Maryland and across the world," Maryland coach Mike Locksley said in a prepared statement. "I want to personally thank Jordan's parents, Marty and Tonya, for their selfless leadership in partnering with the University of Maryland to create something tangible that will educate and positively impact so many. Jordan will always be a part of our Maryland Football family."