North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora raised a few eyebrows last month when he declared that football — and therefore the American way of life — was under attack.
He is right — but the attack is self-inflicted by the very men who are hired and paid to lead.
Fedora was speaking of the issue of concussions and brain damage last month at the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason media event, when he claimed that football has taught life lessons that have had a “major impact on who we are as a country.
“I fear that the game will get pushed so far to one extreme that you won’t recognize the game 10 years from now,” Fedora said. “That’s what I worry about. And I do believe if it gets to that point that our country goes down, too.”
For those life lessons, I give you D.J. Durkin, the soon-to-be former head coach at the University of Maryland and a member of the fraternity that includes Fedora — football coaches who for decades have sent players out on the field with either ignorance or willful disregard for their health and safety.
All in the name of those “life lessons.”
One of those lessons is to win at any cost — as long as the coach doesn’t pick up the tab.
Win at any cost, as long as the bill is handed to the young men that coaches like Durkin send out onto the field, not just in games, but in practice, even if their lives are at risk.
Oh yes, football is under attack — and Durkin may have inflicted some of the worst damage to this way of life that may have cost a young man his life.
ESPN published a story that charged Durkin had created a “toxic culture” in his football program. The story, citing anonymous sources, cited excessive verbal abuse, using food for “punitive” measures and a strength coach throwing weights in players’ direction.
This story comes on the heels of an investigation into the death of 19-year-old Jordan McNair, a Maryland football player who died June 13, two weeks after participating in a workout at Maryland’s outdoor practice facilities. McNair had been hospitalized on May 29 after showing symptoms of heatstroke and exhaustion following the workout, and reportedly had a body temperature of 106 in the hospital.
The school has commissioned an external review of McNair’s death. They have also put Durkin and several other members of the Maryland staff on administrative leave as a result of the ESPN report.
“At this time, the best decision for our football program is to place Maryland head football coach DJ Durkin on leave so we can properly review the culture of the program. This is effective immediately,” athletic director Damon Evans said in a statement released by the school.
The ESPN report alleged that while “grueling workouts, expletive-laced rants and hot-tempered coaches aren’t unusual in college sports programs, those who have been at Maryland told ESPN that what they saw or experienced under Durkin has been excessive. The current players said they had talked with multiple players who described similar views about the team’s culture but feared repercussions if they talked publicly. The two players spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One former Maryland staff member told ESPN, “I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there.”
Another, according to the report, “Said that while he has seen and heard coaches curse at players, he’d never been on another coaching staff with this kind of philosophy. ‘The language is profane, and it’s demeaning at times,’ he said. ‘When you’re characterizing people in such derogatory and demeaning terms, particularly if they don’t have a skill level you think they need to aspire to, or they may never get, then it’s rough to watch and see because if it was your son, you wouldn’t want anybody talking to your son that way.”
So what was the first reaction we heard from the coaching fraternity? Here’s what South Carolina coach Will Muschamp — who used to work with Durkin — told reporters: “There’s no credibility in anonymous sources. I think that’s gutless.”
Of course you do, coach.
The game of football is indeed under siege, no matter how much revenue it generates. No product can continuously sustain the seemingly daily negative perception that football now receives. You have parents in homes across America refusing to let their children play the game. You have high school programs folding up for lack of participation. You have the president of the United States fighting his own war with the NFL over the national anthem.
And now you have the head of a major college football program allegedly running a gladiator school.
Yes, Coach Fedora, football is under attack. But like the great Walt Kelly once said in the cartoon Pogo: “We have met the enemy and they is us.”
⦁ Thom Loverro’s podcast, “Cigars & Curveballs,” is available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver network.
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