South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp on Saturday offered a fierce defense of the embattled Maryland football program and its head coach, DJ Durkin, blasting an ESPN report that outlined a toxic culture within the program and verbal abuse by the Terrapins’ coaching and athletic training staffs.
The university has placed multiple members of its athletic staff on leave in the wake of the article.
The report comes after freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair died in June. The 19-year-old player suffered a heatstroke during a team workout in May and later died two weeks later. An attorney for the family told ESPN that McNair had a seizure on a practice field after running sprints and Maryland athletic trainers waited nearly an hour before calling emergency personnel to provide treatment. Maryland officials dispute this account. The school launched an external review of the death, which is ongoing.
The ESPN investigation also describes a culture of mistreatment in which coaches — namely Durkin and his top lieutenant, strength and conditioning coach Rick Court — used conditioning, weightlifting and nutrition regimens to punish and intimidate players.
Muschamp in a Saturday news conference defended Durkin, who worked for Muschamp as a defensive coordinator at Florida from 2011 to 2014.
“He’s an outstanding football coach, but he’s also an outstanding husband and a father and he treats people with respect,” Muschamp said.
Muschamp then took aim at the ESPN article and decried the practice of using anonymous sources as a “lack of journalistic integrity.”
“There’s no credibility in anonymous sources,” Muschamp said. “If that former staffer had any guts, why didn’t he put his name on that? I think that’s gutless. And in any business and in any company and in any football team, especially right here in August, you can find a disgruntled player that’s probably not playing. So, I think it’s a lack of journalistic integrity to print things with anonymous sources. But I know DJ Durkin personally. And I know what kind of man he is and I know what kind of person he is. I talked to him this morning, and I don’t think it’s right.”
Journalists use anonymous sources mainly for a specific reason: to protect those willing to speak up from retribution, whether it’s physical, psychological or in future employment. A bruised ego or not wanting to tick off the boss generally is not a good enough reason to grant a source anonymity.
In this case, it’s fair to assume the former staffer and two current players at Maryland who ESPN quoted anonymously could be adversely affected if Durkin, university officials or other college/professional football coaches knew their identities.
News organizations often have strict regulations governing the use of unnamed sources. Many require two sources who can corroborate one another’s story. High-ranking editors generally must know the name of the sources. Reporters frequently cannot promise a source anonymity without consulting newsroom leadership.
Those on Twitter, especially sports journalism figures, were quick give Muschamp a lesson on journalistic integrity.
Muschamp’s comments are a shame, because earlier in the news conference he had a pretty insightful perspective on how to constructively critique an athlete.
“You need to criticize the performance, not the performer,” he said. “And I think that that’s something we talk about as a staff a lot. And there’s a certain way that you can talk to a young man about how he’s playing and what he needs to do to improve.”
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