As a Minnesota Vikings fan I will never forget the utter shock and devastation I felt upon learning of the death of Korey Stringer. Stringer, an offensive lineman for the Vikes, succumbed to heat stroke after a day of practice in oppressive heat much like we experienced this past weekend.
He was only 27-years old.
I remember going to bed on the evening of July 31, 2001 when I decided to check out the latest news on startribune.com. There was a story of how Stringer was taken to a hospital with symptoms of heat exhaustion. I recall exclaiming to my wife that his body temperature had reached 108.8 degrees. My wife replied something to the effect of “That’s impossible. He couldn’t survive.”
That phrase would ring eerily prophetic as I checked the headlines of the newspaper on August 1, 2001:
I remember gasping in disbelief upon reading this.
As a teenager, I would have been concerned about the superficial aspects of his death. I would have wondered how the Vikings could succeed without their All-Pro right tackle or if his wages would count against the salary cap.
But since I was a thirty-something adult, I immediately felt sadness for the teammates who loved him as a brother. My heart felt condolences went out especially to his widow, Kelci, and son, Kodie. Sadly, as documented in a recent Star Tribune story, the Stringers are still struggling to move forward five years later.
Despite his status as an All-Pro NFL player and multi-millionaire, Stringer appeared to stay well grounded. Just months before his death, Stringer had learned that youth football players in his hometown of Warren, Ohio lacked the necessary equipment to play the game. Stringer proceeded to sign over his earnings from his February 2001 Pro Bowl appearance. Many who knew him best said that type of generosity was the norm for Stringer.
Although I didn’t know the man personally, I had been able to ascertain that Stringer was a better man than he was a football player.
And he was one heck of a football player.