In 2017, a student came forward with allegations of sexual assault against two football players at the University of Maryland.
According to an internal investigation conducted by the University in September 2017, either then-athletic director Kevin Anderson, head football coach D.J. Durkin, or both, “solicited and facilitated payment to a law firm to represent the accused players.” The payments were initially earmarked as “speakers fees,” but eventually were classified as an “Eligibility Consultation.”
The Athletics Department did not help the alleged victim with their legal fees, despite the fact that they were “a student affiliated with athletics” at Maryland.
This information came to light in a 198-page report on the toxic culture of the Maryland football program, which was released on Thursday afternoon. The report was commissioned in the wake of the death of 19-year-old Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died after suffering heat stroke during a spring training practice on campus. The university already has accepted responsibility for his death, which would have been preventable, had he been treated properly and in a timely manner by staff.
But the report expanded the scope of the conversation beyond the deadly practice on May 29, and looked at the culture of toxicity throughout the program — including the Athletics Department as a whole, particularly under the leadership of Anderson, who led the department from 2010-2017.
Maryland’s student newspaper, the Diamondback, and The Washington Post, first reported on Anderson’s interference in the 2017 sexual assault probe in August. But the extensive report released this week reveals new information about this investigation, including the damning fact that the alleged victim was also affiliated with very Athletics Department that paid to defend their abusers.
On June 20, 2017, the head of Maryland’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct (Title IX Office) met with Durkin and another member of the Athletics Department about allegations of sexual misconduct against two football players. The department was notified once the investigation officially began.
According to the report, Durkin says the two accused football players told him that they wanted to be represented by Donald Jackson, founder and lead attorney of The Sports Group, who had represented other football players on eligibility issues.
But when Jackson represented other football players and basketball players at Maryland on eligibility issues, he received an official engagement letter from the University to represent the student-athletes. This process usually involves the General Counsel at Maryland. However, that protocol was not followed in this case.
Instead, in late August 2017, the law firm submitted a request for a payment for $15,000 in “upcoming speaking” fees, after it received an email from the Assistant AD’s spouse’s personal email account asking for an invoice for “your fee for speaking fee at Maryland.”
Notably, Jackson had agreed to charge a flat fee of $15,000 to represent the two players.
This invoice did set off alarm bells for one employee, who notified superiors in the department. The matter eventually reached UMD President Wallace D. Loh, who instructed Anderson to end the relationship with Jackson. However, Jackson continued to represent the players, and the invoice was revised to describe the services as “Eligibility Consultation.”
NCAA rules do permit schools to hire counsel for players who are facing questions of NCAA eligibility, and since the Title IX investigation could have resulted in suspension or expulsion, and those matters affect eligibility, there could be a legal way to justify that expense.
But the way the university went about obtaining these funds suggests that this was an attempt at “subterfuge as to the true purpose of the funds,” according to the report. Additionally, the funds came from the University of Maryland College Park Foundation, funded by boosters “to endow scholarships and other forms of student aid.”
“The use of Foundation monies was also questionable at best,” the report finds.
Of course, the biggest problem is that the Athletics Department was willing to fund the legal defense of two football players accused of sexual assault, and not the legal fees of the complainant, who was also a member of the same department.
Ultimately, the Title IX Office held a hearing for the two football players on September 29, 2017. One of the football players was found responsible for the misconduct, the other was found not to be responsible. The responsible party was expelled, and according to The Post, and the other football player left the school as well. The report does not include any information about what happened to the alleged victim.
Loh launched an investigation into the incident in September, and ultimately found this to be the final straw in Anderson’s tumultuous tenure.
On October 16, 2017, Loh and Anderson agreed that Anderson would go on a six-month “sabbatical,” and then would not come back to the university after the hiatus. This way, the university could provide cover as to the real reason for Anderson’s departure.
According to the report, there is currently an ongoing investigation into the mishandling of this Title IX complaint by an “outside law firm retained by the University through the Attorney General’s Office.”