The scandal engulfing the University of Maryland couldn’t come at a worse time for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, just ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Fortunately for Hogan, the Washington Post – which wants him reelected, and is highly influential in the vote rich Maryland counties outside D.C. – is downplaying the governor’s role in this sordid affair.
The precipitating event was the death of Jordan McNair. The 19 year old football player collapsed during a late May practice and died in the hospital two weeks later.
The response to this preventable death by the university, and in particular by the Board of Regents, which oversees the school system, made a tragic situation worse.
The Board of Regents can rightfully be called Hogan’s board, as the governor appointed 13 of its 17 members, including its chairman, James Brady, who served as Hogan’s 2014 campaign chairman. Hogan has also appointed two members of his cabinet to the board. Meanwhile the governor’s brother is the school system’s chief lobbyist, a job he got shortly after Hogan took office.
In late October, five months after McNair’s collapse, Hogan’s board was finally ready to act. Rather than fire DJ Durkin, the coach responsible for the toxic culture that led to McNair’s death, the board voted to keep him and instead get rid of school President Wallace Loh. (The board’s vote was taken in secret and it remains so to this day, despite the University of Maryland system being public.)
Notably, in 2015 President Loh renamed the football stadium, which until then had been named for a segregationist. The name change, which was demanded by students, so outraged Chairman Brady that he tried to fire Loh then.
Fast forward to last week, when Hogan’s board opted to keep Coach Durkin and push out President Loh. The board’s decision didn’t sit well with students, players or really anyone. McNair’s father, Marty, said it felt like he had been “punched in the stomach and somebody spit in my face.”
Marty McNair likely had a similar feeling earlier last month when one of the football program’s boosters, who is also a major Hogan donor, said his son was responsible for his own death. “As much as we hate to say this, Jordan didn’t do what Jordan was supposed to do,” Rick Jaklitsch told the school newspaper, The Diamondback. “[T]he kid didn’t drink the gallon [of water] he knew he had to drink.” (After players successfully petitioned to keep Jaklitsch from traveling with the team, he apologized for his comments.)
Hogan’s Democratic opponent, civil rights leader Ben Jealous (who I support), has a different view on what has taken place. “A child has died because of a toxic football culture,” he said. “The buck stops with the governor… It’s his board and his chair.”
In response, Hogan – whose political appointee led the university head first into this scandal – said, “We can’t be playing politics with [McNair’s death].” Hogan also said of the board members, “They can’t be fired by the governor. Mr. Jealous doesn’t understand how state government works sometimes.”
But Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, does know how government works, and protests too. As backlash to Hogan’s board erupted, a fuming governor hurriedly called on the university to reverse course. Less than two hours later Coach Durkin was fired, and Chairman Brady resigned the following day.
This was not the storyline the Post was looking to close out the election with.
The Post’s carefully crafted message throughout the campaign has been that Hogan is beloved by all, even African Americans. The Post prominently featured two polls showing Hogan has black support, while the paper buried a poll showing Jealous crushing the governor by 53 points among black voters. (The Post also buried former President Barack Obama’s endorsement of Jealous.)
Now all the Post’s hard work is being jeopardized by the University of Maryland scandal, the optics of which don’t look good.
The white governor’s board and its white chairman tried to fire the nonwhite school president and instead keep the white coach who oversaw the toxic culture that led to the death of a black player.
It’s not easy to find a way to report on this without making Hogan look bad, but the Post is giving it an honest try.
“[T]his issue isn’t tied to the Black Lives Matter movement,” cautions the Post.
A Post editorial in Saturday’s paper, headlined “The University of Maryland’s self-inflicted fiasco,” avoids blaming Hogan for the mess his appointees created. And a frontpage story from that same day manages to avoid mentioning the governor altogether.
That’s a neat trick to pull on the eve of an election. Like a magician, the Post has disappeared the governor.
The Post’s all-important Sunday edition before the election has four stories that feature the scandal; all of them appear in the Sports section and none of them mention Hogan. The rest of the paper simply ignores the university’s ongoing meltdown.
Meanwhile the front page of the Post’s Metro section has a headline much more favorable to the governor: “Hogan’s fundraising drowns out Jealous.”