Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Aug 2005

Remembering Stringer, Vikings Test Heat Pill

What will they think of next? The Vikings and a few other teams are using a swallowed capsule that measures core body temperature as it passes through the digestive system. That way, the trainers can monitor each player and pull a player out of drills if he becomes overheated.

The Core Temp Ingestible Core Body Temperature Sensor was developed in the late 1980s by HQ Inc., of Palmetto, Fla., as a research tool used for a number of projects, including monitoring how certain pharmaceutical drugs affect the body's core temperature.

The pill has evolved in the past couple of years or so into a protective device for athletes -- in football, tennis, running and other sports -- who train in intense heat, according to marketing director Susan Smith.

Vikings lineman Korey Stringer died in training camp when his body overheated. This new technology could prevent such deaths.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 12 Aug 2005

12 comments, Last at 16 Aug 2005, 10:52am by MDS


by The picknaper (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 7:52pm

I want one.

by ABW (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 9:26pm

Good to see that teams are taking steps in the wake of that tragedy to make sure it doesn't happen again. Sometimes it seems like there's the usual uproar for a week afterwards, and then nothing happens. I hope that Stringer's family sees this.

by Glenn (not verified) :: Sat, 08/13/2005 - 12:54am

Yeah, but does it pass the Whizzinator test?

by jack (not verified) :: Sat, 08/13/2005 - 12:59am

Passes through the digestive system? so do the players just shit it out? And then do they reuse one that's been shat out?

by keith (not verified) :: Sat, 08/13/2005 - 2:19pm

Finding a pill in a pile of 300+ lb lineman shiat has got to be tough work. At $30/day, let's just say tipping should be encouraged!

This is one instance where it helps to be a 'disposable' society.

by Optical (not verified) :: Sat, 08/13/2005 - 7:48pm

I am all for death prevention, but does heat exhaustion death strike anyone else as not really preventable? I can only think of 1 heat stroke related death in the history of the NFL. But with so many athletes and so many teams over the last 75+ years, You have to figure that it would happen at least once. It just strikes me as a freak death, not a systematic problem. If it was a systematic problem, then NFL players would be dropping dead every year or two, not once every 75+ years. Of course, saying that doesn't make Stringer's death less of a tragedy. But I would suspect that NFL players stand a greater chance of dying in a car crash than on the field due to heat stroke.

by marc (not verified) :: Sat, 08/13/2005 - 11:01pm

re #6 there haven't been many NFL deaths due to heat stroke but there have been multiple previous deaths of football players at other levels, high school, college, etc. And also in the NFl itself there have been other instances of players passing out and such from heat related issues. Pretending that heat stroke or other heat related problems aren't an issue because players aren't dying left and right seems pretty retarded to me. Korey Stringer's death shouldn't have ever happened. If I recall correctly he had even vomited on the field and he was still being chastised by coaches and teammates for being a "pussy". It's not only the lack of medical knowledge and prevention that caused his death, but the moronic and worthless uber-macho culture that exists in the NFL that contributed to his death.

by Optical (not verified) :: Sun, 08/14/2005 - 9:33am

I'm not pretending to think that it's not an issue, I'm just not sure it's possible to reduce heat-related deaths to zero. There are just too many athletes on too many teams for there NOT to be a heat stroke related death every once in awhile, even if that "every once in awhile" is every 75+ years in the NFL's case. And since there are far more athletes and far more teams at every level of competition, that makes it even more unlikely that even if we take every possible precaution that we can, that somehow we could eliminate the problem altogether. Here's another question: Why didn't someone die of heat-stroke back in the far more macho 50s and 60s? I'm pretty sure that there were far more precautions being taken when Stringer died a few years ago than 40-50 years ago, yet he still died. All I'm saying is that it's not possible to have zero heat-stroke related deaths from now until the end of time, even after taking every possible preventative measure.

by marc (not verified) :: Sun, 08/14/2005 - 10:10pm

If your contention is that heat related deaths can't be 100% eliminated, then it sounds to me like you're saying it would only be worthwhile if we'd be guaranteed to get rid of every death, which is fucking dumb. If the increased attention to heat related issues prevents even one death then to me it's worthwhile. Also a quick google showed a bunch of results of doctors saying that heat complications and deaths are almost 100% preventable.

by Carl (not verified) :: Mon, 08/15/2005 - 12:24pm

There were two tragedies that arose from the Stringer death.

One was that it took his demise to create league-wide guidelines on heat risk. The NFLPA had advocated for a system similar to what the U.S. military uses for training in very hot conditions, but the proposal had been fought by team owners for years.

For those not familiar with the military's "black flag" policy, click on my name. If the Marines can follow this simple, scientifically-based exertion guideline, why not a bunch of college and professional football players?

While the league has released guidelines, they aren't exactly binding, and franchises continue to follow very different policies, in re heat stroke.

Some of the more proactive personnel, such as Egues in Miami, have begun incorporating real innovations in heat-wicking shoulder pads, helmets and clothing. The Browns also run a very tight camp when it comes to heat concerns, and players constantly suck down water. Ditto, Steelers.

They take this so seriously in Miami that the team now schedules night practices to get in the two-a-days under the best possible conditions.

The other tragedy that most fans don't know about came from a court decision. Stringer's widow filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit claiming negligence on the part of the Vikings.

Keep in mind that before Stringer's death, the Vikings didn't keep medical staff on the field to treat heat emergencies. They didn't have shaded areas for players to rest. They didn't have rapid "cooling units" in the facility like other clubs did. The Vikes instituted these reforms after Stringer's death, but always claimed the innovations had nothing to do with the tragedy or the lawsuit.

To Stringer's family, the Vikings' staffers who allowed him to keep playing while he showed signs of heat stress, then treated him before he died, had a special responsibility for the players in their care.

Ironically, Stringer's family never got their day in court. It was thrown out because, the judge ruled, MN's workers' compensation law was the guiding force for any payment, not civil litigation.

The Vikes were "negligent," but not "grossly negligent," so WC would handle the matter, with a statutory payment guideline, and not a jury.

Three years earlier, a vehicular homicide case in MN had increased the thresshold for "grossly negligent" behavior, and the MN Ct of Appeals determined that in light of that case, the Vikings' failed duty of care wasn't "grossly negligent."

It was a funny case and turned on very precise MN case law. Last time I checked, it was still on appeal to the MN Supreme Ct.

The Vikings COUNTER-SUED Stringer's family, and the district judge ordered THEM to pay the Vikings $47,000 for the expenses of depositions, filings, etc.

Stringer's widow then filed actions in federal court against the NFL and the manufacturers of his helmet and pads.

The one thing that terrifies NFL trainers, of course, is the unknown sorts of supplements players take. Guided by nutritionists or outside medical opinions, these dietary decisions might turn tragic because the ingredients often can trigger dehydration.

Rather than forcing players to swallow a "radio pill," doctors and trainers would prefer to know exactly what sort of supplments they're ingesting so they could warn them of any side effects.

by marc (not verified) :: Mon, 08/15/2005 - 11:48pm

Thanks Carl, for that intelligent, well researched and thought out post. The issue of Stringer's death is still very unsettling to me. His death was obviously 100% preventable and it feels like the Minnesota courts royally fucked Stringer's widow.

by MDS (not verified) :: Tue, 08/16/2005 - 10:52am

Northwestern has just settled a lawsuit with the family of Rashidi Wheeler, who died in circumstances similar to Stringer's. Wheeler's family will get $16 million.