Vikings' Stringer dies from heatstroke

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2001

MANKATO, Minn. -- Korey Stringer was determined to prove himself, especially after he needed to be carted off the field on the first day of practice because of exhaustion in the sweltering heat.

Instead, he collapsed of heatstroke after returning Tuesday and died 15 hours later.

The shocking death of the likeable Pro Bowl offensive tackle -- the first of its kind in the NFL -- left the Vikings and league in mourning and raised questions about how teams practice in the brutal heat of July and August.

''We know we have to play football. But that's not on our mind right now,'' Vikings coach Dennis Green said. ''We have lost a 27-year-old man and we are going to miss him.''

Stringer, who weighed 335 pounds, vomited three times during the morning conditioning drills in stifling humidity and temperatures in the low 90s. He didn't summon a trainer until the drills had ended, perhaps trying to show he could make it through the day in a league known for its machismo.

Stringer then went to an air-conditioned trailer serving as a makeshift training room on the practice field and lost consciousness. Trainers called paramedics, who took Stringer to Immanuel St. Joseph's-Mayo Health Center. He had a body temperature of 108.8.

His organs failed and he never regained consciousness before dying at 1:50 a.m. Wednesday.

Later in the day, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ordered all 31 teams to review their rules on training.

''When this happens, it should cause everybody to wake up,'' Cleveland Browns president Carmen Policy said.

Many Vikings, including the entire offensive line, visited Stringer in the hospital throughout the night. Green and teammates Cris Carter and Randy Moss were there until the end.

''We thought everything was going to change'' at the hospital, Carter said. ''There's nothing that can prepare you for something like this. The amount of hurt we have as a team -- we are devastated.''

Moss, wearing a black baseball cap low over his eyes, joined Carter and Green at a news conference and had to be helped from the podium as he sobbed.

''The only thing I've been thinking about for the last 24 hours is, if he does die, what happens to his little boy?'' Moss said, referring to Stringer's 3-year-old son, Kodie.

''I don't even know how and when I'm going to get over this, because it's hard.''

Green, who also fought back tears, said: ''Korey meant so much to us because he always had that smile on his face.''

Stringer, a first-round draft pick out of Ohio State in 1995, had problems keeping his weight under control and often had trouble in the first days of camp. But so do many players.

Trainer Chuck Barta said five other Vikings had heat-related problems at practice.

''You recognize you have to force fluids down them. You also use ice towels to keep them cool on the outside so they don't sweat as much,'' said Barta, who didn't speak specifically about what was done to aid Stringer.

Barta said he sometimes recommends toning down the intensity of practice because of heat, but it wasn't clear if he did so Tuesday.

Green isn't known for running tough practices, and many NFL teams hold longer training camps than the Vikings.

Tuesday's session had one-on-one drills with intense hitting, lasting from 8:45 a.m. to 11:10 a.m., a bit longer than usual. Players have access to fluids and iced towels, but no water-misting devices or fans were on the field this week.

Green declined to answer questions about how practice was handled in the heat or how Stringer was treated during the drills. The hospital and team officials said they couldn't release details without permission from Stringer's family.

A brief statement from Vikings camp doctor David Knowles said Stringer suffered damage to his vital organs, developed a bleeding disorder, kidney failure and then heart failure.

Carter made it clear no one was pointing fingers.

''It's hot everywhere,'' Carter said. ''That's why they call it the dog days of summer. ... There's certain things you can't explain.''

Stringer's wife, Kelci, and Kodie were at the team's training facility on the Minnesota State University campus Wednesday afternoon and other relatives were still arriving.

The Vikings canceled practice Wednesday and will hold abbreviated workouts Thursday without pads. An intrasquad scrimmage scheduled for Friday night has been called off.

Stringer started every game at right tackle the past two seasons. He was one of the most popular players in the locker room, known for doing impressions of teammates and coaches.

''He did me the best,'' Green said.

Stringer was popular with fans, too. He lived in the Twin Cities year-round and had established community service programs at schools and with the St. Paul public library.

Fans who gathered at the Vikings' camp as early as 6 a.m. Wednesday were stunned to hear of Stringer's death.

''I bought a picture of him to get signed,'' said Scott Westphal, who drove up from northwest Iowa with friends to watch practice. ''I wouldn't be able to ask for any autographs now. It's just not right.''

The death came six days after Florida freshman Eraste Autin died after collapsing of heatstroke. Figures from the University of North Carolina show that 18 high school or college players have died of heat-related causes since 1995.

The only other NFL training camp fatality is believed to be J.V. Cain, a tight end for the St. Louis Cardinals, who died of a heart attack on July 22, 1979, his 28th birthday. Chuck Hughes, a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, died of a heart attack Oct. 24, 1972, during a game in Detroit against the Chicago Bears.



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