junior seau suicide
Junior Seau was an even bigger star in the NFL, and yet he ended his life Wednesday in much the same way as Duerson and former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling: self-inflicted gunshot wounds.Now friends wonder if the San Diego icon hoped his death might leave a greater legacy than any of his amazing feats on the gridiron. Former player Kyle Turley, who is dealing with his own mental issues and has already agreed to donate his brain for research after his death, has no doubt that Seau wanted to make sure his brain could be studied for the telltale signs of football-related trauma. That's why, Turley believes, his friend shot himself in the chest instead of the head.
"Knowing Junior as I did, he was a very strong kid," Turley told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
"Somewhere, the wires got crossed and he unfortunately decided to end his life. But in his last moment — and I will without a doubt believe this until the day I die — Junior Seau ended his life in a valiant way."
Seau's death was ruled a suicide by the San Diego County medical examiner's office after an autopsy Thursday. Officials were awaiting a decision by the family on whether to turn over Seau's brain to unidentified outside researchers for study. A more in-depth investigative report could take up to 90 days.
Seau, 43, was one of the NFL's most rugged players, a fierce-hitting linebacker selected for the Pro Bowl a dozen years in a row. He played for three teams over two decades, far longer than the average football career, before finally retiring for good at age 40.
Three years later, he decided to end his life. There were signs of trouble away from the field: a divorce, a domestic violence charge involving his girlfriend, though he was never formally charged.
Hours before the domestic violence arrest, his car plunged over a 100-foot cliff in what some speculated was an attempt to kill himself. Seau survived with only minor injuries and insisted that he had simply fallen asleep at the wheel.
Seau never indicated publicly he was having trouble with life after the NFL because of all those blows to the head, and his family said he seemed happy.
That's a far cry from Easterling, who died last month at age 62. He suffered from dementia and led a lawsuit filed by a number of prominent retired players, claiming the league didn't do enough to deal with concussion-related injuries.
Notably, Seau didn't join that lawsuit. Also, it's not known if he wanted Boston University, which has been conducting research into football-related head trauma, to study his brain for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease that can be caused by multiple concussions and only detected after death.
The school said in a statement it was "saddened by the tragic death of Junior Seau," but declined to discuss his case without family approval.
Thomas Demetrio, an attorney for the Duerson family, said it would be "pure speculation" to say that Seau had the same motivation for ending his life as the former Bears safety.
"Dave made it easy," Demetrio said. "He left notes. He sent texts to his family letting them know he wanted his brain studied. I don't know that we have a good answer for why Junior did it."
But if Seau was dealing with CTE or a similar condition, that would make it easier to comprehend what sort of jumbled thoughts the former player might've had running through his mind. Demetrio hopes that Seau's family will allow his brain to be studied by the Boston University team.
"We know that CTE affects your judgment. We know it affects the control of your emotions. We know that it affects your suicidal tendencies," the attorney said.
Others also were struck by the method of death that Seau chose.
"Junior, as we know, put the gun to his chest," said Shawn Mitchell, a longtime San Diego Chargers chaplain and pastor at a church in Oceanside, Calif., the beach community where Seau lived and died.
"He was a very big man. If any man could take a bullet and live through it, it would be Junior Seau. He chose to do it that way."
Seau surely had troubles in his life. Beyond those that were readily apparent to the public, there were plenty of whispers that he played so long largely because he needed the money, that his divorce took a heavy toll on his finances.
Turley isn't buying it. Seau, he said, came from humble beginnings and wasn't driven by money. Even if most of his earnings went to alimony and child support, it shouldn't have been enough to drive him over the edge.
"You can talk about the divorce, say he was failing financially. Whatever," Turley said. "A lot of people are dealing with that and they don't kill themselves. This is a person who had more reason to live than not. It just doesn't make sense."
He is convinced that another factor was in play, a hidden killer that Seau couldn't make sense of and no one else could see.
"There are myriad factors that create a downward spiral of depression," Turley said. "But every one of these cases is exactly the same as far as the brain is concerned. There's a very visual disruption in the brain areas that control impulses, depression, anxiety and all those other things that contribute to this occurring."
Demetrio said the more players who allow their brains to be studied, the better. Seau's death might help others in the NFL think of the ramifications of head injuries on the field, he said.
"For the benefit of the players playing the game today, starting in peewee football all the way up, the more evidence that can be compiled," Demetrio said, "the safer the game will be."
Junior's apparent suicide, from a gunshot wound to the chest, instantly drew comparisons to the death of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson.
Duerson left a suicide note explaining he shot himself in the chest because he wanted his brain to be sent to the "NFL brain bank" for further study.
The family is unsure why Junior wanted to kill himself, but feel there isn't necessarily a link to concussions and Duerson comparisons are premature.
Neurosurgeon Julian Bailes, longtime researcher into brain damage from concussions, responded with grief and medical questions about what toll Junior's lengthy football career (20 seasons) might have taken on the 43-year-old.
"As both a football fan and a researcher, the news comes with great sadness first of all for such a great player. But I think we have to add him to the list of those that we worry about who could have effects of chronic, repetitive brain trauma," said Bailes.
The chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago added, "We don't have any strong evidence (yet about Seau), and we know that people commit suicide for other reasons. … But to me it's also concerning due to the fact that he had such a long playing history."
"The emerging research is perhaps pointing to the amount of exposure to repetitive head contacts being like a dose response. … The more you're exposed to sun light; you get a higher chance of skin cancer. … The more CAT Scans you have; you are exposed to radiation and perhaps side effects."
The 1994 Chargers were one of the most successful teams in franchise history. They earned the team's only Super Bowl berth, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 49-26 behind six touchdowns from Steve Young.But since then, their history has been much, much darker.
David Griggs, a linebacker on the 1994 team died in a car accident the summer after the Super Bowl, and running back Rodney Culver was killed in a plane crash in May of 1996.
In 1998 another linebacker Doug Miller died when he was struck by two bolts of lightning. Curtis Whitley, the Chargers center, died in 2008 from an overdose.A pair of defensive lineman, Shawn Lee and Chris Mims died in 2011 and 2008 respectively of heart issues related to their weight and linebacker Lew Bush died of cardiac arrest in 2011.
That list is as tragic as it is shocking. Several of the players clearly died in incidents that had nothing to do with their on-field exploits, but players for players like Whitley, Lee, Bush, Mims and now Seau, the separation is not so clear.
Lee, Bush and Mims all struggled died young of cardiac problems. Though none of the three have ever been implicated in drug schemes, 1994 was at the height of the steroid epidemic in professional football and cardiac failures at such a young age are one of the symptoms of steroid use.
Whitley is named as a plaintiff in a wrongful death suit that is currently pending against the NFL. Though his death was ultimately caused by substance abuse, he suffered paranoia, suicidal thoughts and extreme depression late in his life which the suit alleges was caused by Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.
There were signs of CTE in an autopsy of Whitley's brain.
CTE is at the center of numerous suits against the NFL from former players that allege that the repeated head trauma associated with a life in the NFL has negative impacts on their lives; impacts the NFL did not properly warn the players about.
Seau could potentially fall into the CTE category once the dust settles on his death and autopsy. As details emerge, his story is beginning to resemble the story of another former NFL player who took his own life, Dave Duerson.
Duerson played for the Bears, Giants and Cardinals in his 10-year NFL career retiring in 1993. In 2011, e died of a self-inflicted gun-shot wound to the chest, much like Seau.
Duerson sent a text message to his family just before killing himself in which he explained that he wanted his brain to be examined by the Boston University School of Medicine where much of the CTE research is being done right now.
He chose to shoot himself in the chest, which is very rare in men who commit suicide, so that his brain could be studied. The same could potentially be true of Seau if he felt that his years of playing the game had led him down a dark path.
Though the suicide should be enough evidence that Seau was depressed, there is some other evidence. In 2010, he drove his car off a cliff just hours after a domestic violence arrest. Seau was adamant that he was not trying to kill himself and that he had just fallen asleep, but there were questions surrounding the incident.
According to TMZ, he had been in contact with his sons and ex-wife via text message on Tuesday and they did not think he was depressed or that anything was amiss.
Details will undoubtedly continue to come out about his death and the details surrounding his state of mind in the days to come.
Boston University’s Center for Traumatic Encephalopathy has studied the brains of several dead football players. The center’s mission is to search for injuries consistent with blows to the head, and it would like to take a look at Seau’s brain.
Earlier today, Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King reported that the researchers were hoping to obtain the 12-time Pro Bowler’s brain. There is no word on whether or not Seau’s family would be willing to donate any part of his body to science.
Seau never had any documented concussions during his playing career, but during his heyday in the 90s there was far less awareness about the long-term impact of head injuries. Other than quarterbacks, players almost never came out of games because of concussions. We may never know if head trauma led to Seau’s suicide but being able to study his brain would certainly help answer a lot of questions.
It has been almost two days since news began to trickle out about Seau’s passing and I still can’t believe it. This is tragic for so many reasons, but most of all because Seau was such a wonderful person. He made so many people so happy and brightened so many lives, that this has been so difficult to take.
Hopefully some good will come from this tragedy, whether it is awareness of depression among former NFL players or through the studying of Seau’s brain.