The Minnesota Vikings are struggling to cope with the sudden death of one of the team's top players. Tackle Korey Stringer died early Wednesday morning after collapsing from heat stroke following practice at the football team's training camp in Mankato. Vikings officials say they may have information Thursday on services for Stringer and a revised training camp schedule. But first the team was focused on digesting the loss of the lineman known to his peers as "Big K."
Stringer collapsed after the Vikings' Tuesday morning practice and never regained consciousness. The Vikings say doctors reported his body temperature was over 108 degrees when he was admitted to a Mankato hospital. Several teammates and coaches waited into the night hoping to hear good news, but Stringer was pronounced dead a little before 2 a.m.
"We have lost a brother, a teammate, and a friend. It's been very tough on our football team," coach Dennis Green told a news conference on Wednesday.
Green and Vikings wide receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss talked about the impact of Stringer's death on the team. But their pain was still so raw that each of them had difficulty speaking, especially Moss.
"I think the reason why it's hard for me is just because the only thing I've been thinking about for the last 24 hours is 'If he does die, what's going to happen to his son?' I don't even know how and when I'm going to get over this because it's hard," a tearful Moss said.
Stringer's widow, Kelci, is left to raise the couple's three-year-old son, Kodie.
Green says the Vikings coaching staff woke players early in the morning to tell them the tragic news. The training facility was closed to news media and the public. All practices have been cancelled indefinitely.
Carter, one of the team's elder statesmen and an ordained minister, says team members are supporting one another as best they can. "One thing we're trying to do as a family is say 'we're going to go on together. That no person has to do this by themself.' Try and be understanding of how everyone has a different grieving process. We are professionals, but it is going to be very, very tough," Carter said.
Stringer stood 6'4" and weighed 335 pounds. But within his brawn was a child-like sense of mischief. He was a class clown of sorts in the Vikings locker room. The only time Green and his players smiled during their remarks came when the coach recalled Stringer's affable personality.
Stringer stood 6'4" and weighed 335 pounds. But within his brawn was a child-like sense of mischief. He was a class clown of sorts in the Vikings locker room. The only time Green and his players smiled during their remarks came when the coach recalled Stringer's affable personality. "He could mimic voice, action, mannerisms of anyone. And everyone took pride in saying, 'He does me best.' That was part of his humor. At the same sense, when it came time to play the game of football, he was always dependable," Green said.
Vikings officials were not ready to discuss the role of the weather in Stringer's death and the advisability of playing football on a day when the heat index reached 110 degrees. A spokesman for the National Football League, Greg Aiello, says teams make their own decisions on whether and how to conduct their practices. "Heat stroke claims the lives of several hundred Americans every year. This is the first time it's ever claimed an NFL player, unfortunately. So, we know that our teams will be reviewing their policies and procedures on heat-related illness and we will certainly be encouraging them to do that," Aiello told Minnesota Public Radio.
Among people on the campus of Minnesota State University - Mankato, where the Vikings train, there were plenty of opinions about Stringer's death and the oppressive heat that contributed to it.
A lawyer for the NFL Players' Association says the estate of a player who dies as a result of a football injury can claim the balance of that player's salary and can make a life insurance claim based on the player's years of service in the league.