The sports world and NFL community was once again rocked and saddened by another apparent suicide of a former player. Junior Seau, the all-pro linebacker and former USC great was found dead of a gunshot wound to the chest in his home in Oceanside, California.
While many former players struggle to build a life after leaving the big stage, Seau appeared to be doing all the right things, save a few setbacks. He owned a restaurant in San Diego, he had his own golf tournament and continued his well-documented philanthropy.
To his friends he seemed like the same old Junior with no obvious signs of needing help, but there were some troubling instances that he may have struggled to keep his mental state afloat. In one instance he sustained minor injuries when he drove his vehicle off a 30-foot cliff after being arrested for suspicion of domestic assault. Police concluded he fell asleep at the wheel.
Still, Seau didn’t have a documented history of concussions, but if you ever saw him play, it was obvious he endured a lifetime of punishment to his head. Neurologists say once a person has sustained one concussion, he is four times more likely to sustain another. After several concussions, it takes less of a blow to cause another one.
According to The New York Times, a 2007 study conducted by the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes found that of the 595 retired NFL players who recalled sustaining three or more concussions on the football field, 20.2 percent said they had been found to have depression.
Whether Junior suffered from depression is an uncomfortable subject for those closest to him but he is the second NFL player to commit suicide in the past two weeks. In 2011, former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest, leaving a note that he wanted his brain donated to the study of football head injuries.
It’s almost too painful to think what must be going through someone’s mind while he’s losing his cognitive abilities, feeling depressed and desperate. Yet he has the clarity to shoot himself in the chest to preserve his brain for the greater good and safety of the sport he played and loved.
Seau’s last act may serve as a warning to others, not just NFL and college players, but every family that has a kid with dreams of playing football. Concussions sustained early in life just may be too high a price to pay later in life. Hopefully, Junior Seau’s death, and the way he died, will result in some clarity for those who follow.