By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer

From a very public tragedy that changed their lives forever, Tonya Wilson and Martin McNair have shown the world incredible resilience and the ability to forgive.  The parents of former University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair channeled their heartache and turned it into meaningful policy changes they hope will keep other families from feeling their pain.

McNair, who was living his dream of playing college football for the Terps, lost his life in 2018 because of complications from heat stroke.  The very public process of dealing with grief with the eyes of the world thrust upon them could have broken the will of many parents, but not these two. Instead it drove them to press forward and become leaders in legislative reforms regarding athletic safety for youth. 

After the passing of their son Jordan McNair, Tonya Wilson and Martin McNair (pictured above) turned their grief into purpose and passion by crusading for legislation surrounding safety for young Maryland athletes. (Courtesy Photo)

“This is something that’s opened our eyes to something bigger than just heat stroke,” Wilson said in an exclusive interview. “With a heat stroke you drink some water and you cool down. This is more about safety when you’re sending your kid off to college.”

After a lengthy investigation, it was proven that former members of the athletic training staff did not follow proper safety measures for athletes to receive immediate medical attention in the event of heat stroke. Once it was learned that a simple ice bath could have saved Jordan’s life, the parents decided they were going to make sure that would never be the case in Maryland moving forward.  

Wilson and McNair decided to educate parents and press the state to enact laws to ensure proper immediate medical treatment would be available for kids when participating in sports and other recreational activities. They literally became lobbyists- traveling throughout the state to make parents aware of the fatal potential when improper, but preventable safety protocols are not followed.  Their activism for enlightening other parents became part of their very personal, yet public, grieving process.

“The resilience came from realizing we had to educate people about what happened to us,” said McNair, with his son’s jersey over his back shoulder. “Our grief turned into our purpose and our passion went into being purposeful, which is why we started the foundation.” 

For the last two years, the two-parent crusade has kept their son’s legacy alive through their work with the Jordan McNair Foundation. They have educated parents and advocated for young athletes about heat related illness at the youth, high school and collegiate levels. In addition, they helped draft {House Bill 876}, which became law in May, and “requires each higher education institution in Maryland to develop a system whereby their student-athletes can express concerns about what is happening on their team to somebody outside of the athletic department.”  

“I didn’t realize all that went into drafting legislation and passing laws,” McNair said.  “I literally had to turn to YouTube and find Schoolhouse Rock and watch ‘I’m just a Bill’ for a refresher course.”