|A week ago, Dallas coach Dave Campo decided that it was just too
hot in Wichita Falls, Texas, to practice every day. So he gave most
of his players every third day off and cut short afternoon
practices in the 100-degree heat.
It was in the mid-90s this week in Mankato, Minn., hot enough
for Korey Stringer to be carted off during practice on Monday. The
next day, Stringer was back at practice, complaining afterward of
He died Wednesday morning of heat exhaustion.
Stringer's death shocked the NFL and awakened it to a danger
that players, coaches and executives had all conveniently stored
somewhere in the back of their minds.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Wednesday that he has asked 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.
But that doesn't always work in the macho culture of football.
Even Stringer, who had started 91 of his 93 NFL games and made the
Pro Bowl last season, apparently felt he had to prove himself on
Tuesday after being taken off the field on a cart the day before
and needled by teammates about it.
"I know sometimes a lot of big guys will say they feel weird or
like they are going to pass out and I think the first thing a lot
of coaches will say is, `They're out of shape.' So a big lineman
might not want to go to a coach when they're feeling bad," said
330-pound guard Jamar Nesbit of the Carolina Panthers.
Since 1995, according to figures from a University of North
Carolina study, 18 high school and college players died of heat
stroke or related conditions.
But no one before had ever died of heat stroke in the NFL, where
trainers, doctors and the latest medical equipment are on hand and
trainers constantly tell players to fill up on water and sports
How much will change as the result of Stringer's death? Many
teams have players weigh in when they begin practice and again
after they finish. If they've lost more than 4 or 5 pounds, they
often are given liquids.
But coaches acknowledge that they like hot weather, which melts
away those off-season pounds.
"You need the heat to get into condition," coach Brian Billick
of the Baltimore Ravens said. "... When it gets hot and humid, you
have big guys who can lose 20 to 30 pounds in a single day, and
that's all dehydration."
Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning coach Joe Juraszek said
high-priced and well-conditioned NFL players faced the same dangers
as anyone building a road or laying a roof on a hot summer day.
"We try to work against it so it doesn't happen, but it can
happen to anybody, anywhere -- high school, college and professional
athletes, a construction worker, a guy working outside. Anybody,"
The league agrees.
"The NFL does not dictate. It is a team-by-team decision,"
said Dr. Elliott Pellman, chairman of the New York Jets' medical
department and a member of the league's health and safety
"There are game-time conditions that are much worse than
anything we confront here," he added, citing afternoon exhibition
games, September games in Florida and 20-below wind-chills in
Many players acknowledged Wednesday that the best prevention is
Kevin O'Neill, the Miami Dolphins' trainer, said he tells
players to drink water even when they don't feel thirsty.
"Lot of times I might think I don't need water," Jets receiver
Matthew Hatchette, a former teammate of Stringer's on the Vikings,
said. "But you've got to pay attention to your body. Sit down and
rest when you need to. I think a lot of players will learn from
Some medical people, however, wonder if awareness can totally
prevent what happened to Stringer. Minnesota coach Dennis Green
runs a relatively easy camp by NFL standards.
"It's not always a predictable situation. I won't say it's a
frightening situation, but one that certainly keeps your
attention," said Chris Patrick, head trainer at the University of
Florida, which has had two players die of heat stroke in recent
years, one of them last week.
"It can come on very quickly," Patrick said. "Older players
can get caught up in a drive to make the team and will sometimes
mask the symptoms. There are only so many medical people in a
position to see problems on the field. You have to rely on other
team members a lot of times to draw your attention to someone."
Those players are much more aware now than they were a day ago,
particularly since Stringer was a top-flight player and had friends
or former teammates on every NFL team.
"This is a dangerous time of the year," said Tennessee running
back Eddie George, a close friend who was a teammate of Stringer's
at Ohio State. "You make jokes about it sometimes, but you never
really think about it until something like this happens."