What could the University of Maryland possibly have been thinking?

No matter how much some people may try to tell you otherwise, sports — even at the highest levels — are nothing more than games. They’re entertainment. The outcomes of the contests have little significant impact on the real world.

The fact that many major universities pay sports coaches exorbitant salaries (often they’re the best-compensated “state employee” in that state), is an already troubling indicator of the inflated value placed upon collegiate sports, especially those competing in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

But sports are not life and death — at least, they’re not supposed to be.

Unfortunately at the University of Maryland, that’s not the case. Terrapins football player Jordan McNair died this past summer of heat stroke that he suffered during an offseason workout — mainly because the trainers and coaching staff supervising the workout either didn’t recognize the situation soon enough or chose to delay action.

In the aftermath of McNair’s death, as reports surfaced about how the culture of Maryland’s football program was toxic and abusive, the school unsurprisingly placed football coach D.J. Durkin and his strength and conditioning coach Rick Court on administrative leave, pending the outcome of a school-commissioned investigation.

The investigation confirmed many of the details of the media reports — that Maryland football players were routinely subjected to physical and verbal abuse and exposed to deranged imagery while they ate, all in the name of trying to make the players tougher and more aggressive.

The investigation also confirmed that players were often fat-shamed during workouts when they were unable to complete grueling tasks as they were berated by obscenities and name-calling until they finished or collapsed while trying to do so.

And while some out there will dismiss that as nothing but hard coaching, the reality is that type of meathead mentality is what directly led to the death of a player — an actual human being to whose family Durkin had promised he’d take care of.

Jordan McNair didn’t die because he wasn’t tough enough to play football. He died because Durkin, Court and those working with them killed him by convincing him that failing to complete a workout meant he was somehow soft or not man enough.

Court had long since been fired. And after all that had come to light, most expected — rightfully — that Durkin would be dismissed permanently.

He initially wasn’t. The school’s leadership voted this week to reinstate him before ultimately changing course and firing him Wednesday evening after overwhelming public outcry.

We cannot fathom what led the University System of Maryland’s board of regents to recommend Durkin’s reinstatement. How could a man who was the cause of the very toxic culture that killed McNair be allowed to return, even for a brief time?

The truth is that the University of Maryland failed the remaining football players, the student body and most importantly, the family of Jordan McNair.

We side completely with those players, students and others who just had the common sense and decency to protest this inexplicable decision.

Durkin — and every other sadistic coach who shares his prehistoric coaching philosophy — should never be allowed near an athletic field again.

We just hope that Maryland and other schools realize it before someone else ends up like Jordan McNair.

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