Research Institute Opened in Honor of NFL Star Who Died From Heat Stroke

<p>Korey Stringer. Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings</p>
Korey Stringer. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

The University of Connecticut Neag School of Education, with the support of the National Football League and Gatorade, is opening a new institute on the Storrs campus to further research, education, and advocacy for the prevention of heat stroke and sudden death in sport.

The institute is named in honor of Minnesota Vikings All-Pro lineman Korey Stringer, whose death in 2001 from complications due to heat stroke during a pre-season training camp brought national attention to the dangers of heat stroke among athletes.

A formal announcement of the creation of the Korey Stringer Institute will take place on Friday, April 23, at the start of the second day of the 2010 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Kelci Stringer, Korey Stringer’s widow, who has dedicated her life to honoring her husband’s legacy through the pursuit of a national research institute in his name. She chose UConn because its Department of Kinesiology is a national leader in studying heat and hydration issues related to athletes and the physically active. UConn kinesiology professor Douglas J. Casa, the institute’s lead researcher, is one of the country’s preeminent experts in the field.

“I would like Korey’s legacy to be about life and saving lives,” says Stringer, who will serve as the institute’s chief executive officer. “I don’t know a better way to do that than to offer sports professionals and laypeople alike a go-to resource they can use to find the latest information, tools, and educational opportunities they need to help us prevent heat stroke and sudden death in athletes in the future.”

<p>Douglas Casa. </p>
Douglas Casa, chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute.

“Exertional heat stroke is one of the leading causes of sudden death in sport,” says Casa, the KSI’s chief operating officer and director of athletic training education at UConn. “During certain times of the year, it is likely the leading cause of death. Yet it is almost entirely preventable. With greater focus on hydration, phase-in programs to allow players’ bodies to adjust in hot weather, and access to proper on-site medical care, instances of heat-related illnesses can be reduced.”

The institute was made possible through important financial support provided by the National Football League and Gatorade. It comes at a time when statistics show that death from exertional heat stroke is more prevalent than ever. There have been more heat stroke-related deaths in sport in the past five-year span than in any other five-year span in the past 35 years, Casa says.

“At first, I felt like Korey’s death was very random,” Kelci Stringer says. “But now I see it is not. Heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke unfortunately continue to be problematic in sports and need to be eradicated. I strongly believe that with proper information, those responsible for our young athletes can be fully educated as to how to provide proper care, so that these kinds of tragic heat-related illnesses and deaths can be prevented in the future.”

James M. Gould, Korey Stringer’s NFL agent, was also instrumental in the decision to locate the institute at UConn. Gould, who has become an outspoken advocate for greater awareness of the dangers of heat stroke and sudden death in sport since Korey Stringer’s death, is chairman of the KSI’s Board of Advisors.

<p>Korey Stringer. Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings</p>
Korey Stringer. Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

“I remember thinking to myself on the day that Korey passed, that a loss such as this should never have happened,” Gould said. “Here was a young man, a beautiful friend, father, husband, and son dead from simply living his passion of playing football. Certainly, this could have been prevented. Nine years later, after many turns in the road, an opportunity to do just that has come. I know Korey is with us today, looking down from above with that big smile on his face saying: “Thank you for keeping our future athletes safe.”

Korey Stringer was a 27-year-old offensive right tackle for the Vikings when he died on Aug. 1, 2001 during a preseason training camp in Mankato, Minn. He was the first professional football player to die from complications due to heat stroke in the NFL’s history.

A native of Warren, Ohio and a former college All-American for Ohio State University, Stringer’s powerful blocking helped his teammate Robert Smith rush for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Stringer was widely popular with fans and active in the Minneapolis community. The Vikings retired his jersey – number 77 – during the 2001 season.

Korey Stringer’s death prompted many NFL teams to adjust their pre-season training protocols. Teams now train in lighter uniforms, water and shade is made readily available, and a team doctor is at practice at all times.

“The health and wellness of players at all levels of competition is of great importance to the NFL,” says Gary M. Gertzog, senior vice president of business affairs for the NFL. “We are pleased to be working with the Korey Stringer Institute to ensure that athletes stay healthy as they push themselves to be the best.” Gertzog is a member of the KSI Board of Advisors.

The Korey Stringer Institute will work to increase awareness, education, and advocacy about the proper precautions necessary to avoid heat stroke among organized sports teams and the general public by providing state-of-the-art information and resources through its website. The institute also will offer its services to athletic trainers, team physicians, athletic directors, coaches, equipment manufacturers, parents, school principals, and others to create proper protocols, policies, and emergency action plans to prevent sudden death in sport, especially as it relates to heat stroke. It will provide a comprehensive research database on current information related to sudden death and heat stroke in sport, and will help set health and safety standards for coaches, trainers, and equipment manufacturers.

<p>Douglas Casa, left, associate professor of kinesiology, conducting a research project on dehydration in athletes. Photo by Sean Flynn</p>
Douglas Casa, left, associate professor of kinesiology, conducting a research project on dehydration in athletes. Photo by Sean Flynn

“The Korey Stringer Institute is committed to serving the needs of active people and athletes at all levels – youth, high school, college, professional, and recreational athletes – people who are physically active and those that supervise and care for these individuals,” says Casa, who knows firsthand the potential dangers of heat stroke. He suffered an exertional heat stroke during the final lap of a 10K road race in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1985, and has since dedicated his career to promoting awareness and preventing such incidents from happening to others.

Exertional heat stroke is a medical emergency involving life-threatening hyperthermia, where an individual’s body temperature reaches 104˚ or higher. Symptoms include confusion, combativeness, nausea, collapse, and unconsciousness. Many factors can contribute to heat stroke including intensity of exercise, hydration, heat of day, inability of the body to adjust to exertion in high temperatures, and barriers to cooling such as protective equipment, clothing, fever, medications, and underlying medical conditions. If not immediately treated, heat stroke can lead to organ failure and death. However, with prompt and aggressive medical treatment – such as immediate immersion in a cold water tub – heat stroke patients can survive and return to sport without any long-term medical complications, Casa says.

Scott Paddock, director of Gatorade sports marketing, says, “Our partnership with the Korey Stringer Institute, UConn, and the NFL represents Gatorade’s ongoing commitment to keeping athletes safe on the field of play by meeting their hydration and nutrition needs. For more than 40 years, Gatorade has conducted or funded hundreds of studies aimed at helping athletes stay safe and perform at their best. As a founding partner in the Korey Stringer Institute, we are committed to educating as many parents, coaches, and players as possible to help reduce the number of heat-related injuries and deaths that occur each year.”

Scottie Graham, director of player marketing and engagement for the NFL Players Association, says the founding of the institute “is an important step in ensuring that athletes protect themselves from the dangers of heat stroke. The institute is a tremendous way to remember Korey Stringer’s legacy and to help save players’ lives. Korey is more than a teammate. He is my friend.”

The UConn Foundation has created a fund under the Neag School of Education to support the new institute. Those interested in supporting the Korey Stringer Institute may write a check to the University of Connecticut Foundation, with the words ‘Korey Stringer Institute’ on the memo line, and mail it to the UConn Foundation, 2390 Alumni Drive, U-3206, Storrs, CT 06269 or go to the Foundation website and follow the prompts.

For more information about the Korey Stringer Institute, go to the institute’s website.