Lurtsema's Reaction: Stringer Coverage

The first anniversary of Korey Stringer's death isn't here just yet, but some of the statements in media reports regarding that tragic last day are already irritating this former NFL player.

While I usually save my "Reaction to the Action" for happenings on the field, I can't hold back any longer on all the propaganda out there about the death of Korey Stringer. Call this my reaction to everyone else's reaction, because I'm more than a little upset with the assumptions being made by some people.

There is no justification for laying blame at the doorstep of the Vikings for Stringer's death. Unfortunately, you may have to wait until the actual trial next summer to hear all the details surrounding Stringer's death, but I don't think the Vikings should be blamed.

The anniversary of Stringer's death after the second day of training camp 2001 is approaching. Looking to beat the competition in the press, there already have been a few media reports locally and nationally quoting everyone from medical people, nutritionists, exercise experts, one former player and one photographer.

None of these people are professional athletes. The people pointing the fingers have not been in the trenches. They have no idea about the work ethic and mentality of the successful football players in the league.

Not only am I considered a large man at 6 feet, 6 inches and 260 pounds, I'm also a former professional athlete, a 12-year veteran of the National Football League and a man who has played for some of the toughest coaches the league has to offer — coaches like Bud Grant and Jack Patera. And I relished every moment of it. That is the angle from which I'm approaching this.

Players' work ethic and attitude are checked in many ways, so it really gets under my skin when an athlete like former Viking Gabe Northern is so upset with some of the drills the Vikings initiate for rehabilitation that he bashes the Vikings training staff in the media. "The first time I saw [a drill where players carried an employee up and down stairs], I called my mom," Northern told the Los Angeles Times. "I said, ‘Mom, if they ever make me do that, I'll retire right away.' That has nothing to do with playing ball. I couldn't see the help in that."

Northern has more athletic ability than 80 percent of the players in the NFL but the attitude of an athlete that will never come close to maximizing his ability. In making his statement, you understand why his former teammates say he has no heart.

It takes heart to play this game. Korey Stringer had heart. Korey Stringer had everything you ever wanted in a football player, from God-given athletic talent to locker room leadership to game day leadership. He was also a top-notch father and a great husband. Unfortunately, his off-season work ethic — combined with his attitude — created a tremendous disaster by having the Good Lord take his life. If he could speak to us from heaven, he would tell you that he caused the end result of Aug. 1, 2001.

Northern isn't the only one stirring the pot. Billy Robin McFarland is a freelance professional photographer. He also happens to be the photographer Viking Update often uses, which is the reason he was at training camp the day Stringer collapsed. McFarland described that day to the L.A. Times as, "It was like having a whole bunch of hair dryers blowing on you. It was stinking hot."

That tells me why McFarland is a professional photographer and not a professional athlete. I was at that same practice, stood next to McFarland and it was a far cry from the hottest days that NFL practices have been held. There were also hundreds, if not thousands, of fans and probably at least 50 other members of the media attending that practice. So far, I haven't heard anyone else say they saw any signs of Stringer struggling. I certainly didn't see any.

There are signs that even Stringer didn't know he was in trouble. Water was available in abundance, as it has been for years at training camps. He was perfectly capable of drinking as much as he needed. He had his wits about him until he became incoherent well after practice. Yes, he lay on the ground resting after practice while other linemen did additional drills 10 yards away. Those other linemen were also his closest friends. If they had any idea whatsoever of what was going to take place in the coming hours, don't you think they would have offered assistance?

Nobody knew the road Stringer would go down in the next 14 hours. Not even Stringer. Between the time he was resting on the ground after practice and the time he was walking into the training trailer, he was approached about the possibilities of doing a radio interview. Accommodating as always, Stringer said he would grant the interview in a few minutes. Obviously, he never gave that interview. Still, would he have been so accommodating if he knew he was in dire trouble?

To blame anyone on the coaching staff, training staff or any of the players is ridiculous because Stringer was never incoherent on the practice field. That is part of the reason the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) made recommendations for change (which isn't unusual) but didn't find the Vikings' workplace conditions at fault. Since the start of the NFL in the 1920s, there have been approximately 18,682 players. Stringer's was the first heat-related death ever in the NFL.

Ronnie Barnes, head trainer for the New York Giants and president of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society, may have said it best. "These are very highly motivated men who work very hard and really don't tell us if they are having trouble," Barnes told the Star Tribune. "There is a lot of peer pressure to stay in and work hard, so unfortunately, in some situations, athletes work beyond their point. It can happen fast. You can get yourself in trouble really fast without really even knowing it."

The players in this league have always been accountable to themselves. So when a tragic thing like this happens to a person in my NFL fraternity, please handle it delicately.

Stringer came to camp in great shape weight-wise, but his conditioning was in poor shape. The scales preached good news, yet he wasn't conditioned. He had done that every year. Every year he threw up. He was a player that tried to work himself into football shape during training camp, which I've seen a lot of athletes do. Ultimately, his desire to become a great professional athlete and team leader is what got the better of him.

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