EDITORIAL: After Maryland tragedy, area football coaches must vigilantly protect players

York Dispatch
In this Sept. 16, 2016, photo, then-McDonogh high school football lineman Jordan McNair watches from the sideline during a game in McDonogh, Md. Members of the Maryland football team will wear a helmet sticker with No. 79 to honor former teammate Jordan McNair, who collapsed during a practice session in May and subsequently died. In an announcement Monday morning, Aug. 20, 2018, the school said no player will wear his number for the next three years — the time during which he would have been eligible to play. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
  • A Maryland football player recently died after suffering heatstroke following a workout.
  • Maryland officials admitted that mistakes were made in the treatment of the player.
  • The York-Adams League football season opens Friday, the earliest-ever opening of the season.

Every football coach in York County — at the varsity, junior varsity, junior high and youth levels — should pay close attention to the tragic story unfolding just down the road at University of Maryland.

There are some vital lessons to be learned.

A Terrapins player, Jordan McNair, collapsed during a practice session in May and subsequently died. McNair was running laps on the practice field when he was overcome by heat and exhaustion. After being treated at the team facility, he was taken to a hospital and died of heatstroke.

The school has since apologized to the family and acknowledged that mistakes were made in his treatment. In addition, the head coach has been placed on administrative leave and the strength and conditioning coach has resigned.

Recently, ESPN released a scathing report on the “toxic culture” that existed at Maryland before McNair’s tragic death, including: a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation, the belittling and humiliation of players, extreme verbal abuse of players and coaches who endorsed unhealthy eating habits and used food punitively.

Those coaching methods are, unfortunately, nothing new in football. They’ve been used for decades as a way to “toughen up” supposedly “soft” players and instill “discipline.” After all, football is a “man’s game.”

McNair’s father: Maryland should fire Durkin

Progress has been made: That is not to say that progress has not been made in the treatment of football players at all levels.

A half century ago, it was fairly routine for coaches to use water as a motivating weapon during practice. If a team practiced well, a water break would be given. If a team practiced poorly, the players would go thirsty.

We now know such tactics are idiotic and dangerous. Thankfully, they've almost been completely abandoned, at least by reasonable coaches.

At the high school level, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association has sensibly required that all football teams under its jurisdiction take part in a heat acclimation period, to get players physically prepared for the rigors of practicing under the hot August sun.

Georgia case: Still, reports of player mistreatment by football coaches crop up with every new season, and it happens at all levels.

Just this past week, players from one of Georgia’s best scholastic teams walked out of practice to protest conditions they deemed too physical and dangerous. Grayson High players complained of full-contact practices in shorts and inadequate attention to hydration and heat exposure, according to stories from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Gwinnett Daily Post.

Habits hard to break: The incidents at Maryland and in Georgia prove one thing — old habits are sometimes hard to break.

There’s little doubt that football coaches, in general, have gotten much better when it comes to the treatment of their players.

Still, occasionally, some “old-school” coaches revert back to the severe methods used during a long-gone era.

The result of those isolated incidents can be tragic.

Just ask Jordan McNair’s family.

We can only hope and pray that a similar senseless death never happens here.

Coaches must be vigilant, responsible: That’s why our local coaches need to be vigilant and responsible in their coaching methods. They should never lose track of the difference between “toughness” and “brutality.”

The York-Adams League football teams will open their 2018 seasons Friday — the earliest-ever beginning for the local league. We are in still in the very middle of summer. Heat and humidity will be an issue for the next several weeks, both during games and practices.

Our local coaches need to take every precaution to make sure that our young athletes are kept safe and healthy.

Don’t let some “old-school” idea of “toughness” produce a situation that could potentially turn tragic.