Editor’s note: This is a column. It contains opinion.
The Diamondback published a story this week outlining the feelings many high-level boosters have on Maryland coach DJ Durkin as we wait for the University System of Maryland’s investigation into multiple reports of player mistreatment under Durkin’s reign.
One of the donors quoted in this story, Rick Jaklitsch, is a member of the Champions Club, a group of high-level boosters who authored a letter of support of Durkin in August. Here he is putting Jordan McNair partly at fault for his own death, despite the university-commissioned report noting the training staff missed McNair’s “atyptical” signs of heat exhaustion.
“As much as we hate to say this, Jordan didn’t do what Jordan was supposed to do,” Jaklitsch said. “A trainer like Wes Robinson thinks a kid’s properly hydrated and runs a drill set up for kids that are properly hydrated, and when the kid didn’t drink the gallon he knew he had to drink, that’s going to send the wrong signal to the person running the drill.”
Players, of course, aren’t supposed to die as a result of not drinking enough water. It falls to the team to make sure all athletes are prepared and to recognize signs of heat exhaustion.
This was the most heinous quote contained in that piece, but the opinions tossed out by other boosters tell us they aren’t even considering the idea that Durkin could be involved in wrongdoing. Booster Bob Pinkner joins the chorus:
“It is interesting to note that every negative player quoted in this [Post] article never played or very little. And that the few quoted that did or do get on the field feel good about DJ,” Pinkner wrote in a text Sunday afternoon. “Otherwise I think this article is BS and will sell papers.”
Donor and former Maryland QB Rick Novak called the reports “preposterous,” saying:
“I’m sure [Maryland’s conditioning is] the same as is Ohio State or Michigan or Alabama or USC, you name them. If you’re competing in big-time athletics, you need to have good conditioning and so forth,” he said. “But toxic? And where you berate players and so forth? I’ve never seen that.”
He’s never seen that.
This on the record from former Maryland lineman E.J. Donahue:
Donahue said he met with Durkin in December 2016 to tell him he could no longer deal with the constant bullying. He says Durkin told him that “sounds like a great story to tell my parents on why I’m quitting.”
“You know, I’m a strong person,” said Donahue, who said he has seen a therapist and taken the antidepressant Wellbutrin to treat his condition. “It’s just, you go through all of that, and it really wears you down eventually to the point where you just don’t know what to do, especially as a teenager — like 19, 20 years old and you’re dealing with that life every day and you realize that you have four more years of it.”
And this from Kimberly Daniels, the mother of twins who transferred from Maryland after the 2017 season:
“My son would call and say life’s not worth living. . . . They took something from them,” she said.
The brothers had had enough toward the end of their sophomore seasons of 2017. The last straw, their mother says, was when Elisha accidentally pocket-dialed his mother during a meeting with Durkin.
“I heard Durkin say to Elisha: ‘You’ll never be nothing; nobody likes you. Why don’t you just leave?’ — in the most horrible voice,” she recalled. “That’s when I got on the plane. He had one last game, and then I took my sons out of there.”
The boosters engage in plenty of anonymous source-bashing, which has been a go-to tactic for anyone trying to dispute the allegations. Just because the boosters didn’t see things doesn’t mean those things didn’t happen. The boosters don’t provide any denials for the allegations of specific incidents laid out in media reports.
Players spoke to ESPN and The Washington Post because they thought the environment they were in was unacceptable, and talking to reporters about the experiences they had was the only way to bring some awareness to it. I don’t really know how else to explain that. And multiple former players have gone on the record and attached their names to claims of abuse. That doesn’t automatically make their allegations true, but it sure does make it especially insensitive to just ignore their comments.
ESPN certainly isn’t making money off of reporting on Maryland football. The Washington Post, a large news organization with many parts, didn’t take on a story about Maryland football because they thought it would get page views. That story lasted less than a day on The Post’s homepage.
The boosters are siding with Durkin already. Before the commission investigating Maryland football even reveals its findings. They’re don’t want to see any evidence that Durkin did anything wrong, and don’t appear like they’d acknowledge a hint, even if it’s on a computer screen staring back at them. They could have said nothing or that they’d wait until the findings were out. Instead, we have comments that confirm these boosters care. Just not about the players. All we know now is that they care about the image of a coach and a program that has their investment.