Construction Worker Dies Building NFL Stadium—It’s More Common Than You Think

Minnesota Vikings Construction
Minnesota Vikings

A construction worker died building the new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

The unnamed man reportedly toiled on the structure’s roof before falling into a crevice. A second worker remains in critical condition.

If the victim had died wearing a Riddell helmet rather than a construction hardhat, then America remembers his name. But since he perished building an NFL stadium rather than playing in one, news of his passing soon passes. A workplace safety narrative follows football, not construction, even if the grim reaper follows construction workers more zealously than football players.

Americans remain transfixed on the imaginary deaths of players on NFL fields. Ben McGrath scolded a few years back at the New Yorker that “one of these days, millions of us are going to watch a man die on the turf.” This past weekend, Against Football author Steve Almond called the NFL a “profoundly dangerous workplace” in a debate with this writer on ESPN’s Outside the Lines about the retirement of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland. Borland’s retirement sparked discussions of the risks of football not because the gridiron plays as a particularly dangerous place but because it attracts eyes the way no other place in America does.

In Levi’s Stadium, whose short existence as an NFL venue spans the same timeframe as the retired rookie’s career, none of Borland’s teammates or his opponents perished on the job. In fact, never in the 95-year history of the National Football League has a collision killed a player in this “profoundly dangerous workplace.”

But two men who built the billion-dollar behemoth died violently. Mechanic Donald White lost his life in Levi’s Stadium in 2013 when a counterweight hit him in the head in an elevator shaft. Four months later in October, Edward Erving Lake Jr., a steel-delivery-truck driver, perished when a bundle of rebar fell upon him at the Santa Clara site.

Construction workers died building the venues where the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, and Detroit Lions play. One lost his life earlier this year building a stage for the NFL outside of University of Phoenix Stadium before the Super Bowl. And on Wednesday, one died in Minneapolis building U.S. Bank Stadium.

“There’s a lot of danger in [football] as well, just as there is in the military, or among first responders, or people of that nature,” former Indianapolis Colts front office honcho Bill Polian remarked earlier this year. This would be right if not for the fact that it’s wrong. Polian’s comments came in reaction to Borland’s retirement. They reflect the lack of perspective characteristic of one who misses every other thing because he watches one thing up close. That’s America’s problem with football.

Nobody ever died on the field because of a hit in the National Football League. Hundreds of thousands of men and women died wearing our nation’s uniform. Uncounted numbers risk their lives daily as first responders. Why do idiotic comparisons such as the one made by Polian persist? Because our fixation on football leaves us blind to the realities of other male-dominated pursuits.

Construction remains a deadly profession. Firefighting remains a deadly profession. Fisherman remains a deadly profession. Electrician remains a deadly profession. Playing a rough kids’ game in the National Football League remains a well-compensated profession.