January 27, 2009, - 11:06 am
By Debbie Schlussel
Am I the only one who is tired of dead football players’ families suing everyone but themselves when their relatives die from what is a dangerous sport?
When you suit up and get on the field, you assume the risk. But that’s not the litigious American way.
Yesterday, as an NFL widow settled her lawsuit against the pro league for her husband’s overheating death, a high school coach pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide for the heat-related death of one of his players.
It’s ridiculous. Football is not like playing with dolls. It’s rough and tough, and there are risks. That’s not rocket science. Well, maybe to these families who were “clueless” (but aren’t so clueless when it comes to dollar signs), it’s brain science and rocket surgery. Football players play in extreme conditions, both hot and cold. Some will get hypothermia and frostbite. Others will get extremely thirsty and overheated. Still others will get paralyzed, concussions, and other conditions that will limit their lives and possibly end them early. And some players will be overweight and get maladies and early deaths related to that and pain medications they take.
None of this is news–except to litigious widows and parents who went along with it and are upset that one of these known risks was borne out.
Yesterday, Kelci Stringer, widow of late NFL player Korey Stringer, settled her wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL for his 2001 death from heatstroke at training camp. In her ridiculous suit, the golddigging Mrs. Stringer claimed the NFL didn’t do enough to ensure that equipment used by players protected them from injuries or deaths caused by the heat.
But Stringer arrived to camp extremely overweight and out of shape. He should have known better. He did know better. But he went on the field in hot weather anyway, apparently to keep collecting that high dollar paycheck to keep Ms. Thang a/k/a Mrs. Stringer in the high-on-the-hog lifestyle to which she’d suddenly become accustomed. Whose fault is that? Would any equipment have prevented that? Yes–one machine, not provided by the NFL. It’s called Kory Stringer’s brain. He was an adult. No-one forced him on the field. No-one forced him to feast all off-season, not work out, and show up out of shape on the field.
That was all his own doing. And no lawsuit will prevent that from happening in the future. In fact, settling stupid lawsuits like this will only encourage more of this in the future.
Then, there’s David Jason Stinson, football coach at Lousville’s Pleasure Ridge Park High School. Yesterday, he pleaded not guilty to reckless homicide in the heat-related death of 15-year-old football player Max Gilpin, who died three days after he collapsed while running sprints during an August football practice. It’s ridiculous to charge a coach unless there’s proof the coach forced the player to continue when the player asked to stop, and the coach had some inkling of the consequences.
Yes, it’s very hot in August in most places in the country. August–in most places in the country–is also high school football training camp time. Parents know it’s hot. They know that football players are put through grueling physical workouts at football practice, particularly in August before the season starts. But Max Gilpin’s parents allowed their son to attend the practices. They didn’t say: It’s too hot out, and you’re really not in the physical condition to do this.
And even if Gilpin was in the right condition, things happen. People die because they exert themselves too much and don’t know when to stop. A 15-year-old doesn’t have the personal responsibility that adult Korey Stringer did. But his parents do. And they didn’t have a problem sending their kid to participate.
Oh, and there’s that little detail about the medications Gilpin was taking while under his “concerned” parents’ roof. He was on Creatine, but stopped taking it right before the August football practices began. And he was on Adderall for ADHD. It’s not a stretch to suggest that these drugs likely affected this kid’s physical condition.
Yes, there were six heat-related deaths in high school and one in college in 2008. But the only solution to that is to 1) cancel football training camps and practices before the season begins, 2) move the football season to the dead of winter, so players can practice in the cooler fall and suffer frostbite in February and March, or 3) practice football indoors, where conditions aren’t those on the field, and players can suffer concussions falling on the hard floors of a gym. Or they can just cancel all football. That would stop all football-related deaths for certain (except suicides).
Some athletes push themselves too far for the condition they are in. And they will die from heat or exhaustion. The only way to prevent it is external. Only they know when to say when. And if they aren’t adults, their parents know what can happen. It’s a tragedy that this fifteen-year-old kid died before his life was fully lived. But the tragedy isn’t the fault of his football coach.
When you step onto a football field as a player, you assume the risks.
Stop blaming the failure of your brain and the rest of your inner biology on everyone else.
If you don’t want to die, here’s a tip: Don’t play football. And don’t cross the street, for that matter. Life . . . and death happen.
From my 2002 column, “Pro Sports’ Litigation Lolitas“:
Kelci Stringer is another “victim.” It’s lamentable her pro-football player husband, Korey Stringer, died in Minnesota Vikings training camp on a hot day. But, as a first-round draft pick and starter, he was well compensated and insured for risk of injury. Stringer was also paid his multi-million dollar salary to stay in shape. But he didn’t – getting fat over the off-season, dangerously trying to lose it and get in shape just a few days before camp.
But is that his fault? Not according to Mrs. Stringer’s lawyers (and Jesse Jackson, who has – surprise! – interjected himself in this shakedown). They’ve filed a $100 million lawsuit against the Vikings. No matter that out-of-shape Stringer was up to a bloated 335-pounds. Newspaper photos showed him doubling over, gasping for breath during drills that in-shape athletes finessed.
Mrs. Stringer is a “victim,” and instead of quietly dealing with her grief, everyone else must pay for this woman “scorned” by the Vikings. Costs of the suit will be passed on to Vikings’ ticket-buying fans who, unlike wealthy Mrs. Stringer, are mostly working-class stiffs.