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For the second time in four years, tragedy struck the NFL brotherhood with the sudden death of 49er offensive lineman Thomas Herrion shortly after the conclusion of Saturday night’s game versus the Broncos. In 2001, Korey Stringer, then offensive tackle of the Minnesota Vikings, died as a result of heat stroke following a grueling August practice, which took place in oppressive heat. Prior to the death of Stringer, it had been 22 years since the passing of then Cardinals tight end J.V. Cain, who died during a practice session.
At this time, the cause of Herrion’s death is yet to be determined. Though the game was played in Denver with relatively balmy conditions as temperatures hovered around 65 degrees with 50 percent humidity, heat stroke has not yet been ruled out. It will be three to six weeks before toxicology results pinpoint the exact cause of death. At the time Stringer’s body gave out, his internal thermometer had reached 108 degrees.
One thing is certain. In the aftermath of Saturday nights devastating loss of life, attention shall be redirected towards the issue that plagues many NFL players, and in particular, offensive and defensive lineman; obesity.
At 6’3”, 310 pounds, Herrion was grossly overweight by any reasonable standards. Assuming Herrion was a ‘large boned ‘individual, his weight should have fallen within a range of 176-202 as per recommended medical guidelines. Stringer, incidentally, stood 6’4” tall, and tipped the scales at 335. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute suggest that a BMI, or body mass index, that exceeds 30, would categorize one as being obese. Both players had BMI’s that exceeded 100.
But obesity goes beyond the number one sees when they step on the scale. The human body is comprised of bone, organs, ligaments, muscle, fluids, and fat. Of equal or greater importance is the percentage of ‘body fat’ as it relates to ones overall weight and mass. Men with a body fat content exceeding 25 percent have a much greater tendency towards developing coronary and/or artery disease, which in this case more than likely contributed to or caused the death of Thomas Herrion. Visual observation of photographs would suggest that Herrion’s body fat percentage greatly exceeded that number.
Who could forget William ‘the Refrigerator Perry’, defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears and signature member of their ‘46 defense’, as he chugged onto the field, layers of fat seeping out of his undersized jersey, to line up as a running back as the team was in the shadow of the opposition’s goal. During his career, the 6’2” Perry tipped the scales between a range of 308 to 370 pounds, the latter figure representing his playing weight at the time of his graduation from Clemson.
The eccentricities of Perry’s antics, orchestrated by no nonsense coach Mike Ditka, were glorified by the media and applauded by the fans. It is rumored that Dikta’s usage of ‘The Fridge’ as a running back was the bi product of his lingering animosity with former Bear defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who ridiculed the first round selection of Perry in the 1985 draft. Ryan’s criticism centered on Perry’s obesity which in Ryan’s belief was not consistent with those standards that should've been applicable to a top-tier draftee.
|The Bears' William Perry would be considered small these days in the NFL. (AP Images)
The problem lies within the fact that back in the mid 1980’s, Perry’s obesity was more an aberration than the norm. Consider that in 1980, there was but one offensive lineman that exceeded the 300 pound threshold. At this years NFL combine, more than 90 percent of the 60-plus offensive lineman that attended exceeded that plateau, with at least two tipping the scales within an eyelash of 350.
On the other side of the ball, present day defensive lineman like Gilbert Brown may be heralded for their run stopping ability, but at 6’2” 340, he represents an ‘expanding’ trend in the NFL in which coaches take to big bodies, without regard to their physical health or abilities to keep up with the standards as set forth by the National Athletic Trainers Association. I would be hard pressed to believe that players like Brown are forced to live up to the practice standards that skill players like receivers and running backs are subject to.
Like steroid junkies, many linemen correlate their physical conditioning with their physical strength which unfortunately bears little relevance to their ability to run around a football field for three-plus hours, or climb a flight of stairs, for that matter.
Truthfully, I didn’t need to see ‘the Fridge’ and his end zone buffoonery or Warren Sapp jumping up and down and making like Beyonce’ with a backside that more resembles something out of Herbert’s Hippopotamus. One can only hope that the NFL brass, as well as the players, coaches, and the union will allow Herrion’s death to serve as a wake up call to the ‘other problem’ that exists within the league.