On August 1, 2001, reports that Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer had been hospitalized due to a heat-related condition suddenly became news that he’d died.
“Heat stroke fells Korey Stringer” was the headline. I remember being very confused by it.
“Fells?” I thought. “That seems like an extreme description.”
But then I quickly realized what had happened, that Stringer had died as a result of exertional heatstroke. His passing sparked lawsuits and accusations and, ultimately, meaningful changes regarding the time of day for football practice and the importance of hydration. Not many years after athletes were told to simply swish the water around in their mouths and spit it out to avoid cramps, coaches became ultra-sensitive to the risks of practicing football in high heat and humidity.
Stringer became, according to the New York Times, the third NFL player to die on the field. An AFL player died in the 1960s due to a broken neck.
Teammate Randy Moss was shaken by the events.
“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 at the time. ”I don’t even know how and when I’m going to get over this, because it’s hard.”
Sixteen years later, the memory of that time for those who knew Korey Stringer surely remain fresh, because they’re still fresh for those of us who didn’t know him.