After death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair during hazardous workout, NCPA Executive Director points to lack of enforced health and safety standards as cause of abuse and death in NCAA sports.
LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:
And in just a few short weeks, schools across the country will be buzzing for college football. But in some places, such as the University of Maryland, there are serious questions being asked about the game and the adults paid handsomely to guide student athletes. Jordan McNair, a player for the Maryland football program, died after an offseason workout. He died June 13, two weeks after he collapsed. The school has suspended coach DJ Durkin, and the strength coach who oversaw the workout has resigned. But an investigation is underway into what's being called an abusive culture within the University of Maryland's football program.
To talk a little more about how this could possibly happen to a college student and the broader implications of Jordan McNair's death, we're joined now by Ramogi Huma. He is president of the National College Players Association. That's an organization that advocates for college players' rights and safety.
Mr. Huma, thanks so much for joining us.
RAMOGI HUMA: Thanks for having me.
SINGH: By now, we've heard the reports of what's going on in Maryland. According to Jordan McNair's family, their son died of heat stroke after a summer workout. But that's not the first occurrence of this happening on a football team, right? What makes his case different from other heat stroke-related deaths we've heard about in sports?
HUMA: I think it's important to realize that heat stroke-related deaths in sports are preventable. Maryland's president admitted negligence essentially - that the college didn't respond - it didn't follow best practices. And that's the similarity that you hear time and time again, and it's a shame. So I think there are two issues going on here. I think one is negligence when it comes to sports-related workout deaths. And as you mentioned, the news reports of allegations of player abuse. And sometimes those go hand in hand. Right now in NCAA sports, the NCAA does not enforce any of its health and safety guidelines, and it leaves campuses really vulnerable to this type of thing - players to this type of thing.
SINGH: I thought it was really interesting that we heard the University of Maryland president not only accept sort of moral responsibility for having Jordan McNair's death take place on his watch but also a legal responsibility, which is unusual. Does this signal a shift in how universities in general may now be viewing how they address the deaths of their college athletes?
HUMA: Well, it's definitely a positive development. What stands out in this case is that it was a relatively short amount of time before the president made this announcement. I think that's a credit to him and what he's trying to accomplish. I think the investigations definitely need to ask whether or not player abuse is going hand in hand as well because it's one thing to run a hazardous workout out of ignorance, but it's another thing to pressure players to exert themselves under threat of intimidation or, you know, things being humiliated in front of your teammates in some of the reports there were made. That's a whole different type of negligence, and it really falls into abusive practices. And also, who was a witness? I know that there is an interim head coach, but who all witnessed this for presumably months or even years? If there was player abuse, have they been looking the other way?
SINGH: We've heard of other allegations of abuse at Maryland. There were reports of weights being thrown in the direction of players. For example, an incident where a player who was, I guess, described as overweight was being forced to eat candy bars while watching his teammates workout. We know the strength and conditioning coach has now resigned. I'm just curious - are coaches usually held accountable for these types of actions we've just mentioned?
HUMA: Absolutely not. You know, first of all, I think players need to know - and other coaches - there's a difference between tough coaching and abusive coaching. And what you've just described in terms of the allegations - that describes abusive coaching. And it's interesting. You know, some of these allegations have been made - even just looking at the same conference - OK, we're talking about the Big 10. Maryland's in the Big 10. Indiana University a few years ago - head coach Kevin Wilson - it was reported by a number of players, claiming player abuse, that he was forcing players and trainers to put players in with serious injuries and that kind of a thing. And eventually, Indiana pushed him out. Well, now, he's at Ohio State. He's the offensive coordinator at Ohio State. So it just keeps going on and on. And it needs to stop.
SINGH: You were involved with Northwestern University's attempt to unionize back in 2014. Do you think a union would be beneficial, would actually help prevent these occurrences that you've mentioned from taking place in the future - in the near future?
HUMA: Absolutely. And that was my primary motivation - was health and safety. When I saw the NCAA refuse to adopt the policies that the NFL adopted to prevent concussions and implement protocols, I realized players need all the leverage they can get. Just by the designation of an employee - first of all, when it comes to abusive coaching, that would fall under the protections of preventing hostile work environments. You actually have rights under the labor law if you're an employee. In addition to that, if you have a union, you can negotiate for implementing safety standards that prevent these types of deaths as well.
SINGH: That's Ramogi Huma. He's president of the National College Players Association. Mr. Huma, thanks again for joining us.
HUMA: Thanks for having me.