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Friends and Relatives of a Northwestern University Football Player Grieve Over His Death

Aired August 4, 2001 - 16:10   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you to a news conference in Chicago. Northwestern University's Rashidi Wheeler died yesterday after collapsing during preseason conditioning drills, and let's try and see if we can get the latest. Randy Walker is the head coach of the Wild Cats at Northwestern University.

RANDY WALKER, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL COACH: ... worked to try to bring together this family of football. Our coaches have been in touch with every young man, again making sure their -- they know they are not alone in this situation, because I think sometimes you find yourself feeling alone with your feelings.

We have also called the parents of our players. As you know, many of our players are here during the summer. And we worked to touch base with every parent as well and every incoming freshman. We feel at this point, it's what we can do for each other and it's the strongest bond that we have.

I don't know what words I can give you as far as how we feel, but I know most of us are still in a tremendous amount of grief, and I don't know what, other than time and coming together as a family, as a bunch of people that care and love for each other, can do.

Again, I know our prayers and thoughts are with the family, and nothing can begin to say how we feel, but I think they know we're with them and we're going to work through this together. And as we do many things -- come to grips with our faith and our beliefs and our feelings about each other, and go forward from here.

Before we open it up to questions, I'd like to take a moment and introduce Tony and Kim Will, Rashidi's uncle and aunt who are here. And Tony, would you like to come up and say something, or say it from there? OK. OK. OK.

KELLEY: While we're waiting for a couple of members of Rashidi Wheeler's family take the microphone here, let us fill you in real quickly. Twenty-two years old safety from Ontario, California.

TONY WILL, RASHIDI WHEELER'S UNCLE: We thank you for being present for this conference on behalf of our nephew, whom we deeply loved and thought of him as such a super young man. He was -- if I could just say this, if you ever had a chance to meet him, he was a little taste of heaven on earth for us in our family. He was the person I think in our family that not only did adults -- not only did our children see him as a role model and as a person who was -- I'm just going to say most Christ-like that we knew.

He served for our children as well as he did for we as adults, and we realize here at a great university, that today you lost -- or yesterday, we lost a really great individual as well. And we would lake to at this stage just thank the Northwestern football family, the Northwestern University family for their support up to this point. And they have been trying -- they have certainly tried their best to accommodate our family and are still accommodating them.

We are awaiting his parents' arrival from California, so my wife and I we drove in from Detroit, Michigan last evening, in order to act as liaison, along with the university staff, to make this transition as smoothly as possible.

The grieving -- I have cried my eyes out already. I'm not sure how I'm going to grieve beyond this point. But we just want to be here for his mother and father, and I just really would like to ask for your support, continued support and prayers for this family. And those things that are so important to us -- just a human touch -- so, if you can just reach out to them and just continue to show them love, because it's the only thing that can conquer grief, past just time.

So with that, I'll end my comments and we just want to wait for his family to get here, his mother and father, so they can continue the process beyond this.

QUESTION: Mr. Will, how are you rationalizing this in your family's life, just one of those sad things that strikes a family (OFF-MIKE)? Is there something -- how are you coping with this mentally, emotionally, from a faith perspective?

T. WILL: I would say from a faith perspective, sometimes you're trying to add -- you're trying to find reason behind why things happen. It was just so strange. I was sharing with my wife, I was meeting with some friends a few days ago in a Bible study, and we asked ourselves, well, why do bad things happen to good people?

And it was really hard to -- at that time, I had no idea it was kind of a like foreshadowing, you know, of something to happen. But what it is is that -- I guess at this point I realize that I think God works everything out to the good, and things will happen. And right now, we just really need to -- we just want to draw close to our faith in order to handle this situation -- you're reaching for something else, I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Could you tell us how Rashidi's parents are doing at this point and how they are dealing with it?

KIM WILL, RASHIDI WHEELER'S AUNT: I know that his mom is -- his mom is not doing very well. Rashidi and Linda were very close. And I think his father is handling the situation a lot better than his mom. And so, we just need to have a lot of prayer, continual prayer for her to lose a child and to be so far away where she can't reach them right now, as fast as she could. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) sisters and brothers as well?

K. WILL: Yes, he has. Two additional brothers and a sister, and all three of them will be here this evening.

KELLEY: And so, the news conference coming out of Chicago, courtesy of CLTV, our affiliate there in Chicago, as we get a little more information about the football player Rashidi Wheeler: 22 years old, a safety at Northwestern University, collapsed and died on Friday. It was during conditioning training, but the coroner thinks now that it was due to asthma.

The temperature was 84 degrees, humidity 67 percent, so they thought even on the death of Minnesota Vikings football player Korey Stringer that it might have been what he died of, which was heat stroke, but they don't think that now. They think that perhaps this death is blamed on the 22-year-old's asthma.

Randy Walker, who is the Wild Cats' head coach there clearly struggling, in tears, near tears talking about the tremendous grief that they all feel over losing this 22-year-old Rashidi Wheeler. The aunt and uncle speaking there, talking about what a super young man he was, and that his parents are headed in from Ontario, California, and they are having a great struggle of that, especially his mother.

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