Orlando Thomas, Former Minnesota Vikings Safety, Dies From ALS

orlando thomasAfter more than a decade-long battle, Orlando Thomas died Sunday night at the age of 42 from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Thomas played his entire seven-year NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings (#42) before leaving the league in 2001.

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On Monday, the Vikings released a statement via their website:

The Vikings are deeply saddened by the loss of Orlando Thomas. Orlando was an outstanding player for the Vikings for seven years, but more importantly, he represented the franchise and the state of Minnesota with the utmost dignity and class. While his outgoing personality made him a favorite among his teammates, Orlando’s involvement in the community made him a favorite outside of Winter Park.

Since 2007, Orlando fought this disease with tenacity and optimism. Throughout his difficult battle, he refused to allow ALS to define him, instead putting others’ needs in front of his and focusing on making those around him smile.

Orlando will always remain a member of the Minnesota Vikings family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Demetra and their family.

Thomas was a second round pick in the 1995 NFL Draft and led the NFL in interceptions that same year as a rookie. He played in 98 games, starting in 82 of those, and ranks seventh with 22 interceptions in the league for that category.

Mark Bartelstein, Thomas’ former agent, remembers Thomas as “the most incredible person I’ve ever been around” and said on Monday, “Nobody’s ever fought a battle like Orlando fought, with so much dignity — I never saw anything like it.”

“It’s just incredible. He never had a sense of self pity, never felt sorry for himself, he was always worried about everyone else.”

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ALS gained mainstream attention most recently with the viral “Ice Bucket Challenge”. Bartelstein believes playing football has something to do with Thomas’ 2007 diagnosis. The disease attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. Research has shown that the combined deaths of NFL players from Lou Gehrig’s (ALS), Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s is nearly three times the predicted rate compared to the general population.

Injuries kept Thomas out of 13 games during his last three years with the Vikings, possibly contributing to the onset of ALS.

“I don’t have any doubt that there’s a correlation to it,” Bartelstein said. “But at the same time I also know that he loved the game so much, and he got so much from it. It took everything from him, but it also gave him so much. That’s sort of the tough thing to get your arms around.”

In remembrance of their “Forever Viking,”a moving tribute video is posted to the team’s website.