Junior Seau was a star. He was the kind of football hero that put butts on couches and raised Sunday TV ratings.
Junior Seau died on May 2 of an apparent suicide. In echoes of the suicide of another former NFL great Dave Duerson, Seau killed himself with a shot to the chest, presumably because he wanted to preserve his brain so that experts could determine whether he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a form of progressive brain damage caused by multiple concussions. It can cause mood changes, memory difficulties, neurologic impairments, and dementia.
The tragedy of CTE—make that one of the many tragedies—is that the damage can be suffered when a person is young, strong, and seemingly quick to recover from any injury… but there is no way to diagnose CTE. The only way to tell the extent and progression of the injury is to examine the brain after death. Hence, one of the new preferred suicide methods for people who believe they have suffered enough brain injury to cause CTE is a gunshot to the chest, preserving the brain for autopsy.
According to an article on the Huffington Post:
After defensive back Andre Waters’ suicide in 2006, Dr. Benet Omalu of the Brain Injury Research Institute at West Virginia University told the New York Times that the 44-year-old “Waters’ brain tissue had degenerated into that of an 85-year-old man with similar characteristics to those of early-stage Alzheimer’s victims.”
When the Bengals’ troubled Chris Henry died, Dr. Omalu and his colleagues determined that the wide receiver suffered from the same chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He was 26 years old.
Seau was a former All-Pro linebacker who played for 19 seasons in the NFL, for the San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, and Miami Dolphins. According to an article on Forbes.com, on the day Seau’s death was reported, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed out suspensions for the New Orleans Saints players involved in the team’s bounty program.
Have you heard about the bounty program? As we wrote in a previous blog, the New Orleans Saints had a bounty program, in which players were paid thousands of dollars for hard hits that knocked opponents out of games. Supposedly, players were paid $1000 for a “knockout hit,” and another $1000 if a player needed to be carried off the field. Those are just some of the tactics that have driven more than 1000 former NFL players to sue the league for their head trauma and potentially permanent disability.
How many more players and former players will have to commit suicide before the NFL puts more safety measures in place? Then again, maybe the hundreds of pending lawsuits against the NFL will be the deciding factors. Very often, safety and progress only come after an issue has been screened through the filter of the legal system: Bad actors go to trial, good laws evolve.
Better a courtroom than an autopsy room any day.
To read the HensonFuerst blog about the bounty program, click here: “Organized Savagery” in the NFL
To read the full article in Forbes.com, click here: NFL’s Junior Seau Dies in Suspected Suicide
To read the full article on the Huffington Post, click here: Junior Seau–Changing the NFL Forever