HEAT overcomes NFL players as teams take precautions in aftermath of Stringer's death

Thursday, August 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) _ For two weeks, the Carolina Panthers caught a break from the South Carolina weather. They practiced under clouds and in the breeze and had no problems.

Then temperatures climbed into the 90s and the humidity worsened, making for the hottest day of camp Wednesday and sending two players to the locker room feeling ill.

Larry Chester, a 310-pound defensive tackle, doubled over an hour into practice to catch his breath before vomiting. As a trainer tried to cool him down with wet towels and water, teammate R.J. Bowers began to feel dizzy, too.

By leaving the field early, the two were just a pair of the many NFL players taking precautions a week after Vikings lineman Korey Stringer died of heatstroke.

As the Minnesota Occupational and Health Association met with Vikings officials to discuss the death, one of the team's most prominent players suggested that athletes might be pushed too hard.

``The body is a machine, and they're trying to make the machine produce more revenue,'' said Minnesota receiver Cris Carter, who is starting a Web site to educate players on how to avoid heat problems. ``I think the fatality _ and other fatal cases we've had in the last month _ will force changes.''

They were certainly evident the last two days as a dozen or more NFL players left the field in near-record heat in some parts of the country.

Cleveland coach Butch Davis gave his players Wednesday off and took them swimming. Green Bay coach Mike Sherman changed the two practices Wednesday so players could work out in shorts instead of full pads.

``I think it's the smart thing to do,'' Packers quarterback Brett Favre said. ``A lot of coaches wouldn't do it. How much you get accomplished in this heat with full pads and 2 1/2 hours of hitting remains to be seen. I know guys were cheering and hooting and hollering in the locker room when he said we're going in shorts.

``We all realize what football is about. It's hitting and being tough. But at some point, you've got to draw the line.''

Carolina coach George Seifert acknowledged that teams were being careful, but added: ``I'd like to believe we've always been sensitive to the situation. I remember in San Francisco it was well over 100 degrees every day, and one time I sent the players into the pool after only 15 minutes of practice.''

The problems this week are mostly in the East, where temperatures are at their highest point this summer, reaching well into the 90s, with heat indexes into the 100s. Those were the conditions in Mankato, Minn., last week when Stringer collapsed and later died from heatstroke.

It was that hot in Green Bay on Monday, when 300-pound defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt was one of four players who left practice. Running back Ahman Green sat out Wednesday.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told all 31 teams last week to have coaches and medical personnel review practices for monitoring heat problems.