By all accounts, Tiaina Baul “Junior” Seau, Jr. was more extraordinary off the field than he was on it.  He could never be the guy that accepted help; he was ALWAYS the guy helping someone else.  The 12-time NFL Pro Bowler was trying to deal with life after the cheering stopped…….and the real world took over. 


A messy divorce, personal financial problems, repeated bouts with depression, a short-lived television series, physical confrontations with girlfriends, and a previous suicide attempt in 2010 all brought him to May 2nd when the 43-year old former NFL legendary linebacker and future Hall of Famer took his own life.  On the outside, Junior Seau was always upbeat and smiling, devoted to his family and community, and loved and admired by all who ever came in contact with him.  Plenty of people deal with the general type of problems he was having and continue to go on with their lives.  Why then did he decide to end his?


Seau was a rare athlete on the gridiron.  He played with a ferocious passion and youthful enthusiasm.  Number 55 was a two-time AFC Champion, an NFL Defensive Player-of-the-Year (1992), and was selected to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 90s.  He suited up for 268 games over 20 NFL seasons, and loved the game so much that he didn’t stop playing until he was 40.  The 1,849 tackles and 56.5 sacks no doubt took their toll on his body…..and head.  Seau’s suicide continues a disturbing but revealing pattern of a growing number of retired NFLers.  Just 14 months ago, ex-Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson fatally (and purposely) shot himself in the chest to preserve the brain, as many are assuming Junior Seau did.  Duerson left a detailed suicide note directing his family to donate his brain for study.  Seau did not leave a note, but his family has already agreed to offer his brain for further study as well.


Through continuing study of the brain, we are understanding more about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.  CTE is a degenerative disease of the brain that can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma.  Since the 1920s, boxers have been connected to CTE, and recent medical reports have begun to connect CTE’s impact on retired football players.  These recent studies have become so revealing that more than 1,000 ex-players are now pursuing legal action against the NFL for failing to do enough to protect them from brain (concussion-related) injuries.  Symptoms of CTE include aggression, impaired judgment, memory loss, confusion, impulse control problems, depression, and eventually full dementia.  You can see that several of these CTE symptoms were occurring in Seau’s behavior, but unfortunately CTE can only be detected AFTER death.  As I have said several times in past blogs, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to make the game safer but NOT by changing the way the game should be played.  It’s an extremely violent game and we can’t try and change that aspect of it.  What Goodell can do, and I’ve yet to see any evidence of this, is to improve the safety of helmets.  Really, has anyone seen any information on how football helmets (including neck and shoulder gear) are being improved???  Is this even on Goodell’s radar???  He should follow NASCAR’s lead (after the death of Dale Earnhardt during the 2001 Daytona 500), when instead of making drivers slow down they improved the safety inside the car!    


Junior Seau was NOT one of the former players suing the NFL.  He loved the game too much to ever think of doing something like that.  Instead, he tried to live his life as long as he could, knowing or not knowing what impact CTE may have had on him.  I choose to believe that he ended his life in a courageous way.  To the end, Junior Seau was giving of himself, and through his death he will help us all better understand and deal with CTE.  The NFL and those 1,000+ plaintiffs will forever owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dave Duerson and Junior Seau! 




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