As the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents investigates reports of player abuse in the Terrapins football program, The Washington Post dropped a story on Sunday afternoon that outlines previously unreported incidents.
The story’s worth reading in its entirety. It serves as a continued investigation of the allegations first put publicly in ESPN’s report on the team’s “toxic culture” in August. We’ll sum up the biggest findings here.
A letter sent to the university president’s office outlined allegations back in 2016.
The mother of one former player who remained anonymous says she sent a letter that “was hand-delivered to Maryland President Wallace D. Loh’s office and emailed to others.” A portion of that letter, per The Post, said this:
“The fact that he allows his coaches to psychologically, physically, and emotionally abuse the athletes is paving the way for a multi-million dollar civil lawsuit against the school and the coaches, alleging assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The mother told The Post she was not sure whether the school had seen the letter, or whether the commission investigating the team had seen it. A school spokeswoman told The Post that letter would now be shared with the commission.
“As president I sit over a number of dormant volcanoes. One of them is an athletic scandal. It blows up, it blows up the university, its reputation, it blows up the president.”
The story describes several incidents that paint DJ Durkin and Rick Court in an exhaustively awful light.
Head football coach DJ Durkin is on administrative leave, while the school settled and parted with head football strength coach Rick Court in August.
Kimberly Daniels, the mother of former Maryland defensive backs Elijah and Elisha Daniels, does not beat around the bush in her accounting of her sons’ time in College Park. She says Elisha received the worse treatment of the two as the coaches tried to convince him to leave the program in order to free up his scholarship spot:
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.”
She says she flew back to Florida days later with her two sons and one of their teammates — “We was escaping, literally,” she said, “like we were in the Underground Railroad” — and didn’t hear from the football program until June.
The twins transferred from Maryland after the 2017 season.
Former Maryland linebacker Gus Little described an incident where he cramped up from head to toe so firmly that he still has scars on his arm because the staff couldn’t get an IV needle in his arm, but Court was in the background “calling me soft, calling me a p---- b---- for laying down on the table.”
The story also describes an incident where staff members, it’s unclear exactly who, sat a player down in a chair and called over his teammates after he didn’t meet his goal at a weigh-in. Court then “poured snacks and Rice Krispie treats over” the player.
The story doesn’t appear to cast blame on or excuse from blame any other specific coaches or staff members.
The commission still investigating Maryland is likely looking for a pattern. This story describes one.
The big ESPN story in August relied on multiple former staff members, two on-the-record former players and two anonymous current players.
More players, named and unnamed, past and present, talked to The Post:
“They would make a point to openly humiliate and embarrass you to the players around you and the coaches,” one ex-player said. “They also had video cameras. . . . Even if you were throwing up in a trash can, that would sort of be the highlight of their film, getting the camera as close as they could up to your face and videotaping you.”
Two former players told of a 2016 weight-room incident in which a player was vomiting in a trash can following a workout. Court was speaking at the time and grew upset that he was interrupted. Court pushed the player into a refrigerator, screamed at him and tossed the trash can across the room. He then forced the player to clean the mess, the players said.
Previous stories have described “The Pit,” where injured players stay during practice. There’s a more detailed description here.
Injured players were sequestered from teammates in an gravelly area near the practice fields called “the Pit” and Durkin referred to them as a “waste of life,” a phrase some players heard as degrading but another characterized as being said “in a joking way.”
A person close to Durkin said the coach told investigators that he had never called any player “a waste of life” and that “the Pit” wasn’t designed to punish injured players but rather was set up to provide a safe area for individualized workouts that were customized based on the constraints of their injuries.
Maryland called these allegations “unacceptable.”
Athletic director Damon Evans, in a statement provided to The Post:
These allegations, if true, are unacceptable. We will not tolerate any behavior that is detrimental to the mental or physical well-being of our student-athletes. When the commission completes its charge, we will act decisively and take all actions necessary to ensure the safety of our student-athletes.”
This feels important. We’ll likely expand on this point soon in future stories, but an important note going forward is whether the actions the report outlines are indeed enough to cost Durkin his job. It’s important that Maryland says the things outlined are bad. To bring Durkin back, it would have to determine these public allegations are false.
Some players and parents clearly want Durkin gone. Other players and parents still adamantly defend him.
The parents of running back Lorenzo Harrison were complementary in the report, saying Durkin and his wife showed up with their kids to visit Harrison after his recent season-ending surgery.
Former Maryland kicker Henry Darmstadter summed up the environment as such:
“I thought they did a good job of saying the ‘why.’ I wouldn’t classify it as bullying. I’d classify it as an intense, competitive atmosphere where they try to foster guys to work hard, take risks and hopefully be successful on the field.”
Kimberly Daniels’ opinion can be summed up with this quote:
“I have no faith in this investigation. If they haven’t called my boys or me, the investigation is botched. They don’t want to hear the truth,” Daniels said. “And I’ll tell you this: If Durkin goes back, I will be standing in front of that school with a neon sign; I’ll be on the news every day. People need to know what it was really like.”