Every summer for the past 10 years, I've pulled out a wrinkled copy of the September 2001 edition of Esquire Magazine. The issue contains Jeanne Marie Laskas' posthumous profile of Korey Stringer, and it should be required reading for anyone interested in remembering what he stood for and how tragic it is when a life is cut short mid-blossom.
Ten years ago today, Stringer died from complications of heat stroke. He collapsed in high heat and humidity after the Minnesota Vikings' first full-pads practice of the summer and never regained consciousness.
I was on the Vikings beat at the time, but I will make no claim to having known Stringer well. He had no interest in public life, and as Laskas writes, was incredulous that a national magazine planned a profile on him entitled "The Enlightened Man."
He had a tattoo that read "FTW." I can't spell it out for you, but needless to say, it wasn't a nice suggestion for The World. After he married, had a son and was named to the Pro Bowl, according to Laskas, Stringer re-imagined the tattoo's meaning. It now stood for "Find the Way."
That revelation has always warmed and broken my heart in equal measures. Stringer had fought through a number of obstacles in his life, the least of which was a lifelong battle with his weight, and finally had landed in a place he was proud of.
If there was a positive consequence of his death, it's that it serves as a reminder of the dangers of heat strokes just as training camps are opening for all levels of football. Each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6,000 people go to the emergency room with heat-related illnesses. We now know that all 6,000 episodes were preventable by taking steps to acclimate to heat, to remain hydrated and to understand warning signs.
(Here is the CDC's full guide to the prevention of heat illness.)
It's easy to forget details after 10 years. But at this time of year, I always hope that football players of all ages recognize that a completely healthy man, one just like them, walked onto a football practice field 10 years ago. Two hours later, he was overwhelmed by heat. About 14 hours later, he died.
So on this sad anniversary, please be aware. And while you're at it, Find The Way.