■ Editor’s note: This column first published on Aug. 5, 2001, four days after Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer died and a day before area high schools began fall football drills. A year after this column ran, I had total hip replacement surgery at the age of 36. I still consider myself lucky it was just my hip I messed up by being a macho idiot.
Korey Stringer is dead.
I never met Stringer, the All-Pro offensive lineman from Minnesota who collapsed Tuesday following football practice and died Wednesday of an apparent heat stroke, but it didn’t make typing those words any easier.
Because I don’t ever want to write those words about an East Texas kid, please understand the next line — crude as it may be — comes straight from the heart.
If you die Monday at practice because you’re too stupid or too macho to get a drink of water when you need one, you’re an idiot and don’t expect me to shed any tears over you.
Now that I have your attention, allow me to continue.
By all accounts, Stringer died Wednesday because he wanted to prove his manhood by pushing his body even when his body said it had been through enough. He sent trainers away during practice and shunned the water bottle.
All in the name of being a macho football player.
I know it happens, because it happened to me almost 20 years ago.
During spring practice my freshman year in high school in East Tennessee, I found myself listed at the top of the depth chart at nose guard on the varsity squad. On the fourth day of practice, I got tangled up with a guard and center and knew immediately something was seriously wrong with my left leg.
I could still walk, and made it through spring drills, worked in the weight room, ran with the team all summer and went to a week-long camp in North Carolina in August to prepare for the upcoming season. My limp was horrible, but I wasn’t about to lose my starting job or let my teammates think I was dogging it just because I couldn’t handle the three-a-day practices.
On the fourth day of camp, another battle with a center and guard left my leg hanging at a grotesque angle and camp was over for me. A week later I had the first of two surgeries to repair and eventually replace my mangled hip. I haven’t taken a pain-free step in 18 years. I still have enough metal in my leg to rebuild a Buick, and I probably need another new hip in the very near future.
It wasn’t a life and death situation, but I was told if I had gotten things checked out in the spring when the hip was only out of socket and not mutilated beyond repair, I probably would have been able to play as a junior or senior and I wouldn’t walk like an old man now.
Like I said, I know it happens. Players keep playing with twisted ankles, bruised shoulders, broken fingers and concussions and they refuse to replace the water they have sweated out simply because they don’t want to look bad in the eyes of their teammates or coaches.
Want to know a secret? There isn’t a coach alive who wants to go through the hell of having to tell a parent their son is dead. And, if you are worried about a teammate ragging on you because you drank some water or sat out a play because you felt woozy, here’s what you do. Finish your water, make sure things are OK with your head and then line up in the next drill and knock the slobber out of him.
Then, get another drink of water just to celebrate being alive.