x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lessons learned on death anniversary of Korey Stringer

The Minnesota Vikings player died in 2001 of heat stroke, which is still an issue in today's game.

Jim Kleinsasser is the last remaining Minnesota Vikings player who knew Korey Stringer as a teammate, and the veteran spoke to the team about his friend on the 10-year anniversary of Stringer's death from heat stroke.

"I loved that guy," Kleinsasser said. "His comedy, just his humour, he brought you up in the middle of training camp. He was just a great guy.

"A big guy, but just a big teddy bear. I don't think there's a better teammate you could have."

The Vikings commemorated the date by painting a big No 77 on one of their practice fields. They also held a moment of silence before the practice started, a reminder of the dangers players face in the sweltering August heat.

"It was a sobering moment for our team as Jim explained who Korey was and what type of player he was, more so the person," Leslie Frazier, the coach, said. "Everyone misses him. I wish he could come out and watch us practise today, but in a way I feel like he was there today. He was there, just having his number there on the field and painted.

"Just feel he lives on in a lot of ways through the pride these players have. A lot of people miss him."

Stringer continues to impact his fellow football players. His death on August 1, 2001, prompted teams across the NFL to more closely monitor their players during the long, hot practices of August.

The Vikings have been at the forefront of the movement. Head athletic trainer, Eric Sugarman, is one of the most respected authorities on heat illness, and his staff uses an exhaustive system to keep track of how players are being affected by the heat.

The team has some players ingest pills that allow staff to monitor their core temperatures. They also take urine samples to make sure players are staying hydrated and are constantly prodding them to drink more water and Gatorade energy drinks.

"I can't prevent someone from getting an ACL injury," Sugarman said. "I can prevent someone from getting heat illness."

The anniversary comes just two days after a 14-year-old boy in South Carolina collapsed and died on the field during practice for his high school. Doctors were conducting tests to see if heat was responsible for Tyquan Brantley's death. Sugarman does not hesitate to share stories like that with his players. Anything to ensure that the message hits home.

"You have to," Sugarman said. "It's a shame that it happened and you don't want it to ever happen again."