Wednesday, August 1
League examines its hot, humid practices

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 dizziness.

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 drinks.

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," he said.

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 committee.

"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 Chicago.

Many players acknowledged Wednesday that the best prevention is self-discipline.

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 this."

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."

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Vikings All-Pro Stringer dies from heat stroke complications
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