Monday, June 20, 2011

Remembering Korey Stringer [Mondays with Gus]

Many sports fans remember Korey Stringer as the Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman who died from heat related injuries during practice in 2001. To me, he was and always will be much more than just a martyr for the cause of ensuring safe practice habits for football players in United States. I had the pleasure of knowing Korey personally before he passed away, and like many other people that knew him, I have nothing but the best to say about him as a person. In my world, Korey set the standard for how wealthy football players should behave towards their fans and how actions toward other people can make all the difference in the world.

It started the night before I was to meet Korey (and a number of other Minnesota Vikings players) at a two day football camp for offensive and defensive lineman. The sponsors set up a meet and greet the night before at a bar. My dad knew I loved how the big guy played, and decided to chat him up. There are two different stories as to what happened next. My dad says he told Korey who I was and wanted him to know that he has the OK to rough me up if I act out. Korey's first words to me were something along the lines of “You must be Gus. Your dad told me I'm allowed to slap you around, since you shouldn't be playing football.” Anyone that knows my dad believes Korey.

What they both confirmed though, is that my dad tried to buy Korey a drink, but he refused. He said it's an awful example to set to young kids that are trying to accomplish a goal. He said the effects of alcohol on kids is too dangerous and that he'd rather do the right thing and avoid drinking anything other than a coke. I took this to heart, even as a 7th grader. Here is one of the people I look up to caring enough about me to make sure he sets the right example. Dad made sure to let me know about that and I'll never forget that feeling.

There were some funny stories throughout the two day camp. too. At one point while doing a drill for offensive lineman, Korey wanted to put me in my place. I had beaten older kids in two previous drills and was filled with confidence. In the next individual drill, we were to start at the guard position and pull left to block for a fictional running back. When you pulled, you hit the person in front of you – who was supposed to hold a huge pad – as hard as you can. The kid in front of me went and Korey interrupted. He grabbed the pad from his hands, threw it on the ground and said “Gus, I want you to hit me as hard as you can. I won't move an inch. Let's see how good you are now.” Being an arrogant kid, I told him that I might hurt him. Now, to put that idiotic comment into perspective most fully grown adults couldn't hurt Korey with a car in the space I was given. He laughed and told me to start the drill.

I psyched myself up, remembering everything he had taught me about getting low and hitting people with good balance and an aggressive punch. I was mad that he was trying to embarrass me. When the QB called hut I ran full speed, used what I thought was perfect form and hit him as hard as I possibly could have. Without taking a single step forward, he stuck his stomach out just as I went to hit him. To say I flew 5 yards backwards is to do a disservice to how truly impressive this was. The man didn't move. I was the kid that got tied to the back of the rope when our grade competed in the tug-of-war. This stuff wasn't supposed to happen to the fat kid! When he got done laughing, Korey helped me up, dusted me off and reminded me that trash talk gets you hurt.

To this day, when I see ESPN covering athletes that make derogatory comments, or behave in ways that make them seem elitist (or just plain stupid) I think about Korey Stringer. It's not the kind of thing that gets people to pay attention to the TV, but at the same time it is the kind of thing that makes me realize that the best people don't always get the best attention. While I have a lot of people to thank for helping me appreciate the game of football as a fan and a person, nobody had a larger impact on me personally than Korey did. Thanks for everything.

-Gus Rafeedie

No comments:

Post a Comment