Milking the NFL

An open letter to the widow of former Minnesota Viking Korey Stringer.

Dear Kelcie Stringer,

It's been two years since the sad death of your husband, former Minnesota Viking Korey Stringer, from heat- and weight-related causes. His death was sad, but not, as a lot of media fops like to moan, tragic. The use of the word "tragic" should be reserved for kids who die a gruesome death after being left alone in a hot car or entire families whose coyote drops them in the middle of the Organ Pipe National Monument in July and tells them that Los Angeles is just over the next rise.

Your husband died because he showed up for training camp grossly overweight and out of shape, and then tried to squeeze several months' worth of off-season conditioning into a couple weeks of labored breathing, industrial-strength sweating and almost ritualistic puking. Instead, something went wrong; maybe it was the heat or the humidity, or maybe it was the extra 70 or 80 pounds he was lugging around. Nobody's really sure.

After he died, the Vikings gave you a buttload of money, even though they were under no obligation to do so. You then showed your gratitude by filing lawsuits (for which you should be incredibly ashamed) against the Vikings and the team doctor. A judge threw out the suit against the team but, for whatever reason, the doctor offered you an out-of-court settlement. Reportedly, you have enough money from those two sources to see to it that you and your son live extremely comfortably for the rest of your lives.

But apparently that's not enough, because now you've filed a $100 million lawsuit against the NFL and others, including Riddell, the maker of the helmets and pads he wore. And here's the best part: Your slime-ridden lawyer is trying to claim that you're doing it on behalf of all NFL players because you're concerned about their health. Yeah.

Your husband was 27 when he died, which means that he had been going through football training camps of one kind or another for roughly half his life. Was 2001 the first year that it was hot and nasty in August? Did he not realize that he was being paid enormous amounts of money to play a game that most American male adults would gladly surrender bodily organs for in order for a chance to participate? Did he suddenly wake up one day and say, "Oh gee, I gained 75 pounds last night, and training camp starts tomorrow?"

I felt bad when it first happened. He was too young to die; you're too young to be a widow; and a kid should have a dad. But you and your lawyer have systematically sucked all the emotion out of the situation and have left behind only a shining monument to greed.

NFL players don't need you suing on their behalf; they know the situation. And the lawyer says, "Frankly, it's no coincidence that the average football player in the NFL plays for four years. They use them up and spit them out." What's his point? That's not that much different from the average career span of a professional hockey, basketball or baseball player. You want longevity? Play golf.

Last December, ESPN showed this dreadful made-for-TV movie called The Junction Boys, about the hellish training camp that Bear Bryant ran when he first became coach at Texas A&M. The conditions were inhuman--hot, humid, dusty. Water was withheld from players, as was, in many cases, decent medical treatment. And yet I would bet that every former football player in my age group who watched it did so with a smile on his face (except for when Tom Berenger tried to have a Southern accent, at which we would all groan).

Football's a tough sport; it always has been. When I played, coaches would withhold water as punishment. On defense, we were taught to spear (tackle head first). And the equipment that we had a generation ago was a joke compared with the great stuff players have today.

People die playing football; it's one of the few drawbacks of the sport. But people also die playing baseball and basketball and skiing. But, despite the (admittedly stupid) water policy, most of the people from back in my time who died did so from head and spine injuries, not from heatstroke. (That's why spearing was outlawed.) I tend to think heatstroke wasn't a huge problem because high school athletes from back in the day used to play multiple sports, so they never got too far out of shape. When football season got over, they'd go play basketball or wrestle. Then, in the spring, they'd do baseball and/or track.

These days, everything's a shortcut. Many football players pound the supplements so they can become these Creatine monsters. Then, when the season is over, they hit the weights and the buffet tables, and then, a couple weeks before training begins, they start gulping down Ephedra so they can lose 50 pounds in a month and hold on to their high-paying jobs. I'm sorry, but if I were being paid millions of dollars a year to play a sport I love, and I had trouble maintaining my weight, I'd pay some guy 50 grand to follow me around and smack the pork chops out of my mouth.

Last year, I was obese and I decided to do something about it, so I lost a considerable amount over a five-month period. I've since regained about 25 percent of what I lost, but now, I'm back losing again. My goal is to get to what I weighed when I played football in college, about 175-180. I think I'll make it.

But if I don't, it's on me. It's not Popeye's Chicken's fault or Nike's fault. And if I happen to die trying, I don't want my wife to sue the manufacturer of the sweatshirts I wear when I work out or the company that makes the StairMaster.

Please reconsider what you're doing. You're embarrassing yourself and dishonoring his memory.


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