Archive for Sunday, August 5, 2001

Stringer’s death inexcusable

Vikings have no hot-weather games on schedule, so why train in unbearable conditions?

August 5, 2001

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Unexplainable. Inexcusable. Choose your word for Korey Stringer's death.

Denny Green, the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, contends that Stringer's loss was "unexplainable," and that no one in the organization should feel guilt over it.

Actually, the cause was quite specific: heatstroke. Which raises a question.

Why were the Vikings practicing in 110-degree conditions when they don't have a single hot weather game on their schedule? Unexplainable, or inexcusable?

If you accept Green's word, the conveniently misty and blameless "unexplainable," then you tacitly let him and the entire organization off the hook for what happened to Stringer.

The inference is that because it was unexplainable, it was therefore not preventable. But it was preventable.

The experts are unanimous on this. Which is why one of them, Robert Cantu, medical director of the National Center on Catastrophic Sport Injury, called it "inexcusable."

No pro football player should die of heatstroke, any more than cholera, in this day and age if the most basic attention is paid and precautions are taken.

Unexplainable. Inexcusable. Stand those two words side by side, and you see why Green clings so hard to his. If Stringer's death was explainable, it was preventable. And if it was preventable, it was inexcusable.

Find a physiologist who believes that working out for three hours in full pads in a heat index of 110 degrees is a good idea. You can't. The only people who still believe there is a benefit to practicing in the heat until you puke on all fours are a few ham-headed football people who remain trapped in other eras.

Fortunately, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, even from his far remove, has demonstrated more sophistication and personal accountability than any member of the Vikings organization thus far.

On hearing of the tragedy, Tagliabue set up a conference call among NFL trainers and medical advisers and promptly circulated a set of guidelines for practicing in the heat.

Some experts go so far as to advise teams to move indoors and avoid the heat altogether a policy the entire league should consider.

But none of this can console for the loss of Stringer, or redeem the pointless waste. The absurdity of it: The Vikings play all of their home games indoors, in the climate-controlled Metrodome. And yet they practiced in 110-degree heat in August until a man died because of it.

The hottest temperature the Vikings will endure all season will be in a preseason night game at Miami. And that's it. The rest of their schedule reads as follows: in Baltimore and Chicago in September, to New Orleans in October, and to Tampa at the end of October. Hardly subtropical conditions. Followed by trips to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Green Bay.

What was so important on Aug. 1 that the Vikings had to hold two-a-days outdoors in such heat? Nothing.

Stringer's death needs to be explained fully and openly to prevent it from happening to others. What's more, his family has the right to know if it was needless and preventable. There is another word for Stringer's death: Unalterable. Nothing can undo the damage or replace the loss. The explanations are all that's left.

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