The results of the autopsy performed on ex-San Diego Chargers player Junior Seau are in, but they just raise a number of new questions. Did brain injury prompt Seau to kill himself, or did Ambien?
Seau, 43, committed suicide May 2 at his home in California, shooting himself in the chest. The death, the latest is a series of suicides by former NFL players, immediately had people speculating about whether Seau had sustained brain damage during his years on the gridiron.
Many of the players who have taken their own lives were found to have suffered permanent brain trauma has a result of repeated concussions. A number of these players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head. CTE causes depression and memory loss.
Seau’s autopsy didn’t detect any brain damage, according to press reports, including one in USA Today. It did find that Seau had the drug Ambien, used by those who have insomnia, in his blood.
Even though the autopsy didn’t find brain damage in Seau, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have brain damage, as NFL.com reporter Albert Breer pointed out. CTE doesn’t cause great abnormalities in a brain, and needs special testing to be diagnosed.
That analysis will be done. Sean’s family has sent the deceased player’s brain tissue to the National Institutes of Health for study, and the kind of testing it will do will find evidence of CTE, if it is present.
Seau’s use of Ambien brings a whole new dimension to his death. He had trouble sleeping. But Ambien is a controversial drug. The Food and Drug Administration says that Ambien’s side effects can include “worsening of depression, and suicidal thoughts or actions.”
So was Ambien the tipping point that led Seau to commit suicide? Or will scientists find out that he had CTE? Or was his death the result of the tragic combination of the two?