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Saturday Sports: University Of Maryland Football Team Controversy



And controversy continues to surround the University of Maryland's football program following the death of a player after a practice last spring. We're going to turn now to Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN The Magazine. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And this is a controversy, we don't want to forget, that began with a tragedy - a 19-year-old player, Jordan McNair, died of heat stroke five months ago following a practice. The Maryland coach, D.J. Durkin, was put on administrative leave, returned this week, then fired. There seems to be what amounts to an uprising or standing up to the coach on the team, doesn't there?

BRYANT: Well, not just standing up on the members - on the part of the members of the team but also from the university students. And I think that's one of the things that's been very interesting watching this is the impunity in which the regents - the board of regents at the University of Maryland seem to believe that D.J. Durkin would be allowed to come back and have there be no repercussions. I think that when you watch this story and especially if you take this story and you combine it with what's been taking place in the university systems across the country - whether it's Ohio State, whether it's Michigan State with the Larry Nassar case, whether it is Baylor University - that the role of athletics and sports, the power that these athletic departments have is so enormous that they really do believe they're invincible. And the thing that bothered me most about this, Scott, was the notion that the players and the family, the McNair family, and that the entire country would just sit and expect this to be normal, that this football coach would come back and that there would be no repercussions at all for a 19-year-old dying on the field.

SIMON: I mean, does it all trace back to the money?

BRYANT: It always traces back to the money. And I think that this goes back to this question that we've been having whenever we talk about this for the last dozen years that I've been on this show. We talk about the power of sports, the power - the money that these universities bring in from basketball and from football. The fact that the players are unpaid and the fact that the players have - I'm sorry - that the coaches have so much power. And D.J. Durkin - when you look at his settlement...

SIMON: And they're paid plenty, the coaches.

BRYANT: And they're paid plenty. And I was just about to say, he's got a five-million-dollar settlement that they're working out right now. And so who runs the show over here? And you have this battle - it's a very intense one - of, does the university control sports, or does sports - or do sports control the university?

SIMON: And, I mean, I think it also raises a question about, you've got to ask, what is a coach? Coaches are supposed to take care of their players, aren't they, especially at the college level?

BRYANT: Well, exactly, especially at the college level. And when you look at these recruiting stories and the trips that they make to these families, the very first thing that they say is we are here to take care of your child, not only as a star athlete but as a person. We're going to grow them as people, as men, these great leaders of men. You hear all of this. And it just rings so hollow when you recognize that what this is really all about is money. And also on top of that, I think that the more important thing or even the equally important thing that I saw from Maryland was the fact that the students see through this and that they were out in force. And when we talk about change and challenge to systems, you have to be out in the street. And I think that the University of Maryland, whether it was the players being vocal online, with the students being vocal online and also the students being vocal out in the university campus, you can't ignore those numbers. Without those numbers, without people talking, nothing happens.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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