Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins destroyed the University of Maryland and leaders of the state system today in a vicious column describing how the university has chosen money and feint possibilities of football success over the life of a student athlete.
Calling the state’s flagship university “a canker sore with a couple of dormitories strapped to its suppurcating side,” she takes to task everyone and everything involved in how the heatstroke death of UMD freshman football player Jordan McNair resulted in the reinstatement of Terps head football coach DJ Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans, while university president Wallace Loh will retire in June; presumably for refusing to reinstate the two amid the scandal.
The exact same thing happened at Morgan State University four years ago, but with dramatically different results. A freshman football player died during a practice, but no one was ever held accountable for his death. The head coach at the time eventually left for another job, the athletic director eventually retired, and the president went on to earn a five-year extension and a pay raise; with little more than a six-figure legal settlement for Marquese Meadows’ grieving family.
No one from the State of Maryland jumped in to handle the investigation surrounding Meadows’ death. Columnists at the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post never criticized the administration or assigned blame for the needless and negligent death of a promising student athlete.
And as political as the scenario has become for the University of Maryland, it was worlds more political for Morgan State, the state’s flagship historically black institution at the center of a landmark federal lawsuit which proved the state guilty in creating two systems of higher education for black and white students.
Yesterday’s USM circus proved a couple of things. Loh’s forced departure was never about McNair’s death or accountability; it was about politicians and UMD supporters choosing Durkin and his potential to guide a football team to national prominence over ethics in administration and courage in leadership. The same president who drew criticism for removing an infamous racist’s name from the university’s stadium, and who faced controversy for moving Maryland from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the BIG TEN for more revenue and exposure, finally got his comeuppance at the hands of UMD traditionalists.
It also proves that a scandal and mistakes made at Maryland are more worthy of reform than those at Morgan State; a culture which clearly underscores why the state may one day be out $2 billion or more at the hands of a federal judge who called Maryland’s chronic violations of the Constitution through program duplication, underfunding and negligence of the state’s four HBCUs worse than those implemented during Jim Crow-era Mississippi.
But it does something more sinister to Morgan. It feeds a wicked stereotype that black people are unworthy of equal treatment or expectations. Loh’s departure surprised no one throughout our state or the country who has been paying attention to the story. No one thought twice about Morgan State President David Wilson or anyone else tied to Meadows’ death being fired.
No one at Morgan has faced any scrutiny, from lawmakers to students and alumni, for a black man dying on their watch; much in the same way as no one has faced accountability for the several black men shot or stabbed on campus in recent years.
MSU Board Chairman Kweisi Mfume was arrested 19 years ago for protesting the death of Amadou Diallo at the hands of New York City police officers.
MSU Board Vice-Chair Frances Murphy Draper is publisher of the AFRO-AMERICAN Newspapers, which for generations has reported on injustice and society’s struggle for accountability to its black citizens.
MSU Board Member and US Congressman Elijah Cummings was one of the loudest voices in the national issue on steroids in baseball.
With all of this history on speaking truth to power and exposing pervasive systems of power, how ironic is it that these three along with other board members at Morgan have allowed the University of Maryland and its fiasco to look better at the prospect of executive accountability?
Coaches and executives were suspended at UMD, a report was compiled and a decision was rendered, however crooked and destructive it may prove in years to come. MSU’s Board of Regents and President Wilson did nothing to account for Meadows’ death; no investigation, no report and no discipline.
And today, there is no mechanism in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Meanwhile, Maryland will have an independent body to provide oversight for compliance and safety within its programs.
Two schools should not confront the same tragedy of death and negligence and one president has his career altered while the other has his enhanced. Loh shouldn’t be forced into retirement while Wilson is rewarded with more money and more years to get something else wrong without any real measure of supervision from Morgan State regents or the state.
Wilson once sought and received praise for ordering a campus digital sign to read that Morgan State was a place where “black lives have always mattered.”For those who think that yesterday’s report on UMD’s football crisis counters that point, they should remember that an HBCU was the site of a similar crime against one black life four years ago.
And today, no one remembers or cares about him.