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Stringer's Widow Claims Vikings Encouraged Use of Supplements

Mar 1, 2003 | Saint Paul Pioneer Press

Attorneys for Kelci Stringer filed a memorandum Friday claiming the Vikings promoted the use of dietary supplements and that her late husband, offensive lineman Korey Stringer, cannot be faulted for using them.

Stringer died of heatstroke after collapsing during training camp in 2001. Kelci Stringer has filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Vikings. In documents filed last week, the Vikings argued that Stringer was responsible for his death because he used a supplement that contained ephedra, which also has been linked to the Feb. 17 death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.

Attorneys for both sides will make their cases Tuesday before Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson, who will decide whether the case will go before a jury.

Players use supplements containing ephedra to help them lose weight and maximize their performance during workouts. Ephedra has been linked to heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure because it speeds heart rate and constricts blood vessels.

Kelci Stringer's attorneys insist there is no evidence Korey Stringer used ephedra the day he collapsed, although the Vikings insist that drug was never tested for. He died the next day. But in papers filed Friday, they argued that even if Stringer had used ephedra, the behavior cannot be deemed "negligent" in regard to his death because the atmosphere in the Vikings' locker room encouraged its use.

The attorneys cited testimony from center Matt Birk, who estimated 20 out of the 53 active Vikings players, including himself, had used Ripped Fuel, which contains ephedra, and that "over half" had used another supplement called Mo' Power. Both were among supplements found in Stringer's locker after he died.

"Even if one assumes his use of Ripped Fuel or Mo' Power at some point, one cannot say based on the evidence that a reasonable Vikings player in his position should have known not to take them," the Stringer attorneys wrote. "The Vikings did not merely tolerate the use of such supplements, but rather promoted them."

Birk testified that he and former Vikings receiver Cris Carter sold Mo' Power in the Vikings' locker room. The attorneys said Birk's testimony painted supplements as a "form of community property in the locker room, so players helped themselves to them," they wrote in the memo.

Vikings attorney Jim O'Neal said supplements were allowed in the NFL at the time of Stringer's death and that the league had issued warnings about their use. The NFL has since banned ephedra.

O'Neal denied the Vikings promoted the use of supplements.

"It appears that ephedra supplements were used by a significant number of players, not just on the Vikings, but many sports organizations," O'Neal said. "But the Vikings as an organization never promoted that."

Stringer's attorney, Paul DeMarco, said the Vikings are trying to shift blame.

"It is hypocritical for the Vikings to have created and promoted an environment where supplements are sold and encouraged in the locker room, and then pretend that the team never sanctioned it," DeMarco said. "It would be like the pharmacist who blames everyone else for what is dispensed in his own pharmacy.

"They are trying to fault others for the environment they created in their own locker room."

Other points made by Stringer attorneys in the memo:

• Carter and Keith Johnson, the team's chaplain at the time, promoted and held an interest in a Web site that was featured on the Vikings' Web site. Carter and Johnson, through the Web site, sold supplements, including Mo' Power.

• The inventor of Mo' Power, St. Paul chemist Gregory Clark, was a consultant to the Vikings and a featured speaker at the 2001 training camp, the night before Stringer collapsed.

"In this environment, where team-tolerated and team-sponsored supplement use was so pervasive, it would be impossible for these defendants to fault Korey Stringer for failing to meet some supposed standard of care in regard to supplement use or for not recognizing that he should not ever take them," Stringer's attorneys wrote.

With regard to the claim that Stringer's lack of conditioning played a role in his death, the attorneys said the team cleared him as fit to practice July 29, 2001.

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