Sunday, August 21, 2005

A Sports Interlude - NFL Lineman Collapses, Dies

Last night, San Fransisco lineman Thomas Herrion, a large human (6'3" - 310 lbs), collapsed in the locker room following his team's preseason game in Denver. Herrion was pronounced dead after being taken to a local hospital. The specific cause of death was not known or not yet immediately reported. Herrion was 23.

Sadly, Herrion's name is now on a list of athletes who have died, not from game-incurred injuries like the Cleveland Indians' Ray Chapman, but as a result of the extreme pressures of their careers. Kory Stringer, a Minnesota Vikings tackle, died after suffering a heat stroke during training camp in 100-degree weather in the summer of 2001. Stringer had remained on the field practicing and had not taken enough water breaks to replenish his body with fluids. Steve Bechler, a 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher, died in Spring Training in 2003 of a heat stroke brought upon by a weight-loss supplement he was taking that contains Ephedra, which, among other things, raises the body temperature in order to burn off fat. Bechler had been told by a coach to lose weight in order to improve his chances of making the team's roster.

Add to that short list of professionals the college athletes who have died in similar fashions, like Northwestern football player Rashidi Wheeler. Add people like Ken Caminiti, whose death came years after his final appearance on a baseball field, but was expedited by his profuse usage of steroids and supplements. Finally, add the unnamed, often unheard of teenagers on high school teams who died after used steroids in hopes of "getting noticed," and achieving the stardom of their athlete role models.

These deaths don't exactly constitute deaths in the line of duty. They don't show how tough or how hard sports are. They show that athletes are very often people who have sad, difficult, and painful lives. For every Kenny Rogers, Ron Artest, and Terrell Owens, who set bad examples and give the entire profession a bad name, there are a hundred or a thousand athletes who didn't make it, but struggled in the minors, or in the European leagues, and then found themselves without a college education after being released or told to go home. This all may be a bit far-fetched. But the multi-million-dollar salaries and the wild off-field lives of big-time stars don't really characterize the athlete's life. These tragic deaths often give us a more accurate glimpse into that life.

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