Safety first is critical for our high-school sports

The death of former Minnesota Vikings’ offensive tackle Korey Stringer had a long-term ripple effect on high school and collegiate athletics.

Stringer, who died from complications of heat stroke on the second day of Vikings’ training camp in 2001 in Mankato, Minnesota, inadvertently created a legacy for himself.

Stringer’s death heightened awareness of the importance of hydration for athletes practicing in often-oppressive heat and humidity in what is referred to as “the dog days of summer.”

During the ‘70s, ‘80s and even throughout the ‘90s, along with some through the mid-’00s, many school coaches looked at drinking water as a sign of mental weakness.

It was an unwritten rule in football that you acquired mental strength through dehydration.

Stringer’s death was a catalyst for change in the high school, collegiate and professional football culture.

According to a Minneapolis Star Tribune article, Stringer’s death addressed complications of pressuring players to “bulk up” to well over 300 pounds.

The Star Tribune article states that at the time of his death, he weighed 335 pounds and was at the lowest weight he had ever been in his pro career.

The death of Stringer created a heightened awareness of the importance of hydration.

Increased knowledge of the long-term residual effects of concussions has also made safety a bigger priority for high-contact-sports participants.

The days of getting your bell rung and shaking it off have been replaced with safety first.

Even now, every year tragedy strikes somewhere on gridiron practices. Inevitably, some players of football still die in practice every summer.

Which speeds us up to today with COVID-19 safety protocols still being worked out.

Every bureaucracy in sports appears to have a vastly different approach.

Some are practicing, others are canceling seasons, some major collegiate conferences are trying to limit play, and many, like the Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association, remain in a holding pattern.

The state Department of Education’s press release issued last week declared that all extracurricular activities will start August 19.

Typically, all school-sanctioned events begin August 4.

The press release from the DOE broke the elongated silence on what the HHSAA’s plans are in trying to move forward to play with this virus.

“The HIDOE remains committed to reopening schools safely on August 4 for the fall semester,” the press release states. “As the COVID-19 situation evolves or as new health and safety guidance becomes available, the HIDOE will adjust plans to ensure that all are safe learning and working environments for students, teachers and staff.”

This situation is atypical, but building safety protocols for schools is nothing new.

Yet somehow schools continue to carry on with voluntary workouts that are continuing until a player or coach tests positive with COVID-19.

College football is a multi-billion-dollar engine, and several teams are being infected with this virus.

This may put a stop or significant delay to the start of major collegiate athletics, depending on what transpires in the forthcoming months.

In Honolulu, a KHON2 reporter who is a part-time football coach at Iolani tested positive for COVID-19 lst week.

The teams weren’t even practicing with football.

Many high school and collegiate players haven’t been allowed the luxuries of having top-level teams of doctors and technology available to them.

It’s sad but inevitable that some high school or collegiate players somewhere will probably die at the hands of this dreaded disease before significant changes are made across federal governing athletic bodies.

It’s nice to see the HHSAA remaining in a holding pattern, prolonging their long-time suspension of high-school sports.

Let’s remember Stringer’s death as a cautionary tale to continue to exercise safety first.

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Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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