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How His Parents Are Turning Their Grief Into Hope After Losing Son To Heatstroke In 2018 – CBS Baltimore


COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ) — A Maryland family received $3.5 million as a result of the wrongful death of their son, Jordan McNair, an athlete at the University of Maryland College Park.

McNair died two weeks after he collapsed from heatstroke during Terps football practice.

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For the first time since the settlement, Jordan’s parents talk to WJZ’s Vic Carter.

They know the money will not bring back their son, but what it will do is right some wrongs in athletic programs across the country. Making parents, coaches and athletes aware of the dangers of heatstroke and the importance of rapid response.

Former McDonogh offensive lineman Jordan McNair watches a 2016 game from the sidelines. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

For more than two years, Marylanders have all vicariously felt the pain of Marty McNair and Tonya Wilson — the parents of Jordan McNair — a smiling, energetic 19-year-old defensive lineman. Jordan collapsed due to heatstroke during conditioning and practice on May 29, 2018 at the University of Maryland.

That day, his temperature spiked to 106 degrees. He was in crisis and the training staff failed to act properly and quickly to save his life.

“We have an individual at 4068 Field House Drive that’s hyperventilating after exercise and unable to control their breath,” could be heard on emergency response call.

It took them more than an hour to call 911.

“Ambulance a12b male patient with seizure. Ambulance a12b to communications. Please advise the medics to come through the field level,” could be heard over the radio.

“The university accepts legal and moral responsibility for the mistakes that our training staff made on that fateful workout day,” said former UMD president Wallace Loh.

A thorough investigation of the incident revealed a toxic culture among the coaching staff, an underequipped training staff with a general lack of knowledge of heatstroke and the protocols to save an athlete in trouble. Two trainers were fired, a coach resigned and head coach D.J. Durkin was fired.

Tonya and Marty are now blanketing the country, telling their story and educating coaches, parents and athletes. The $3.5 million settlement from the state brings their legal challenge to an end, but spurs them to continue working to save athletes’ lives.

Vic Carter: Does this bring closure for you?

Tonya Wilson: Closure — yes, on the legal side. But I will forever grieve my child. He was my only child.

Vic: Tell us about the other side. The money does not replace Jordan.

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Tonya: Not at all. I miss him every day. I had him for a wonderful 19 years and during that time he never gave me a problem. He was into sports. I was the baseball mom, the soccer mom, the football mom– and he is forever missed.

McNair’s family has turned their pain into purpose and will use some of the settlement money to further the cause of educating athletes and coaches about the dangers of heatstroke.

“One of the things that I realized is that initially we were football centric,” said Marty McNair. “And when I got more versed and more educated on this type of injury, then we realized that this is a student-athlete injury and then our crowds got bigger because we weren’t just talking to the football program, we were talking to the entire athletic program. Baseball, football track and field — anyone who was out in the elements.”

Vic: What do teams need to have in place right now to protect student athletes?

Marty: All teams should have a solid emergency action plan first and foremost. That’s where it starts and that covers CPR, cold water tubs, it covers AED machines, concussion protocols, it covers lighting protocols. Because still a lot of things happen and we assume that they have these things in place and unfortunately we don’t. So emergency action plans are first because we need to know if my child goes down or a kid goes down, who’s gonna do what? Who’s gonna make the call? What hospital are they going to? What do you have in place so these things – a three to five-minute action plan can save a life.

Vic: Tonya, When you look at athletic programs, what did you think the priority for athletic programs if not the protection of the students?

Tonya: Winning – that’s it – winning. Push those athletes – push them, push them, push them because at the end of the day it’s all about a win.

But they will quickly tell you emphasis only on wins can result in the loss of life. A message they think is now sinking in across the country.

Tonya: So I think it is changing.

Vic: So you’ve made a difference?

Tonya: Jordan made a difference. His death is not in vain. Jordan made a difference.

So far the Jordan McNair Foundation has educated more than 7,500 parents, coaches and student-athletes and provided cooling tubs to schools from Alaska to Miami, Florida.

There’s also hope for a Jordan McNair institute that will continue their effort. Marty McNair has also captured Jordan’s story in the book, “Can My Child Play? The Questions We Should Have Asked.”

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A special thanks to the Sagamore Pendry Hotel for providing a space where we could safely conduct this interview. 

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