On Thursday every sports writer in America was trying to make sense of the suicide of “Future Hall of Famer” Junior Seau. And most of them were raising the same issue that I raised yesterday: Did brain injury from playing pro ball prompt him to pull the trigger and fatally shoot himself in the chest.
Friends and family members of the former NFL linebacker, 43, were stunned to learn of Seau’s death. They said it just did not fit with the man they knew, the former San Diego Charger. He had not appeared despondent, and had chatted with his mom earlier this week.
He was an affable guy who had hosted a reality TV show, “Sports Jobs with Junior Seau,” and he owned a restaurant in Mission Valley, Calif.
Seau is one of a handful of ex-NFL players that have committed suicide, most recently Ray Easterling less than two weeks ago. Brain damage from repeated blows to the head, concussions, had led to depression, memory loss and personality changes in some of these now-deceased players.
The NFL is being sued by roughly 1,000 ex-pro players on this very issue, the claim that the league let them play even though it knew that concussions could cause long-term brain damage.
According to the Associated Press, Seau’s former wife Gina said that he had suffered concussions during his football career. But she didn’t know if they had played a part in him committing suicide. No one can answer that question at this point.
The stories about Seau’s demise mentioned that he shot himself in the chest, not the head, which is exactly what former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson did last year. Duerson didn’t want to damage his head, because he wanted his brain to be studied by Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. That center has studied the brains of many deceased athletes to see if they were damaged from repeated concussions during their careers.
Seau’s distraught family is weighing whether to have his brain sent to Boston for examination, according to AP.
New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica addressed the brain injury issue in detail in “Too Many Give Up Their Lives For Brutal Game,” published Thursday.
“There is no way of knowing at this time that Junior Seau … was another ex-player suffering from some kind of traumatic brain injury,” Lupica wrote. “But would anyone be surprised if he did suffer from that kind of injury? … A big, fast violent player in a violent sport. How many hits to the head is that, from Oceanside High and Junior Seau being found dead at his home in Oceanside yesterday morning?”
Lupica interviewed Dr. William Focazio, founder of Pain Alternatives, Solutions and Treatment, which provides free medical care and testing to ex-NFL players.
The doctor said that because of Seau’s playing style, he likely suffered repeated head injuries, which can cause clinical depression.
“Again: We don’t know if brain injuries brought Junior Seau to yesterday, but we know that he wasn’t just leading with his shoulder pads all those years,” Lupica wrote.
According to AP, Seau was “known for his ferocious tackles.”
Those tackles may have wound up making him pull a trigger.