All-Pro tackle Korey Stringer had a locker full of controversial and possibly dangerous dietary supplements, the Minnesota Vikings said Friday, which casts doubt on the idea that heatstroke alone killed him.
“We’ve known about this and the family has known about this since Day 1,” Viking Executive Vice President Mike Kelly said.
But attorney Stanley M. Chesley accused the team of concocting the story to better position itself for a $100-million lawsuit Stringer’s family plans to file the day after the season ends.
Chesley said a toxicology report conducted on Stringer, who died of heatstroke Aug. 1 after the second day of training camp, showed the player’s system was “absolutely clean” and offered no evidence he was taking dietary supplements.
“It’s an act of desperation by the Vikings,” he said. “There is absolutely nothing to support these vicious rumors.”
Scrambling to save Stringer’s life, doctors in Mankato, Minn., called Viking trainers and asked whether the player had been taking any medication. Team officials talked to his roommate, guard David Dixon, and sent all the bottles and containers from his locker to the hospital, Kelly said.
In the locker, Kelly said, were an empty bottle of the supplement Ripped Fuel; a vial of Celebrex, an anti-inflammatory prescription drug; an unopened bottle of the weight-loss product Xenadrine, and the herbal supplement Mo’ Power, a performance-enhancing product endorsed by teammate Cris Carter.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press, which reported the story in Friday’s editions, cited team sources who said one player told team officials he’d seen Stringer take two Ripped Fuel capsules before the morning practice on July 31.
Stringer collapsed after that practice, lost consciousness in an air-conditioned training trailer just off the field, and died early the next morning.
Chesley scoffed at the report.
“I love that,” he said. “What the heck do they mean, somebody saw somebody take something? What does that mean?”
Xenadrine and a version of Ripped Fuel include derivatives of ephedra, an herbal stimulant commonly used by athletes and body builders. According to the Food and Drug Administration, such over-the-counter products can raise blood pressure, speed heart rate and contribute to dehydration.
At least three football players who died this year--Devaughn Darling of Florida State, Rashidi Wheeler of Northwestern and Curtis Jones, who played for a Utah indoor team--were found to have traces of ephedrine in their systems when they died.
In September, the NFL added ephedrine to its list of banned substances, following the lead of the NCAA and International Olympic Committee.
The NFL bans the use or distribution of products that include ephedrine, unless they are prescribed for medical use by a team physician. Also, teams and players are banned from endorsing manufacturers or distributors of those substances.
One of the ingredients in Mo’ Power is yohimbe, a stimulant derived from tree bark that the FDA warns can lead to serious adverse effects, including renal failure, seizures and death.
Asked if the Vikings provided Stringer with supplements, Kelly said, “We absolutely did not. At the time, none of these substances were prohibited. Even if you assume that these were being taken, it wasn’t prohibited in any way. [But] our trainers strongly discourage the use of these, as do our strength coaches, and they are not provided by the club.”
Stringer, who had weight problems earlier in his career, reported to training camp at 335 pounds, the lightest he’d been in six seasons as a pro. His agent, James Gould, said Stringer had been careful about what he ate in the off-season and had no rapid weight loss.
“He was in perfect shape,” Gould said.
The full toxicology and autopsy reports have not been released, at the request of Stringer’s widow, Kelci. Even the Vikings have yet to see them, Kelly said.
“What we’re concerned with is, do we run a safe camp? Can we do things better?” he said. “We didn’t have access to the medical records. We didn’t have any reasons to disagree with the opinions or conclusions reached by the medical examiner.”
On Oct. 8, the Vikings met with the Occupational Safety and Health Division of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, and Viking officials detailed the findings of the internal investigation they ultimately submitted to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. They told OSHA dietary supplements had been found in Stringer’s locker.
That information was unrelated to OSHA’s report, however, which was released Nov. 1 and focused on workplace conditions. In that 300-page document, the Vikings were cleared of any direct responsibility in Stringer’s death.
In what looms as an awkward twist, Stringer’s number will be retired Monday night during a halftime ceremony of a game between the Vikings and the New York Giants.
Kelci Stringer will receive her late husband’s jersey from Viking owner Red McCombs, whom she has accused of being insensitive in the wake of Korey’s death.
If Stringer were found to have had dietary supplements in his system at the time of death, that could undermine the family’s lawsuit, legal experts say.
“The strongest case [for the Vikings] would be to make him entirely at fault,” said Robert L. Rabin, a Stanford Law School professor. “They could argue that if in fact they had the information that he was taking ephedrine, they wouldn’t have asked him to go through the drills. Even if the jury doesn’t buy that argument, and sees both parties as being partially at fault, that could reduce the damages.”
Said another legal source, who did not want to be identified: “All of this, and the lawsuit isn’t filed yet. It could get ugly.”