Did Football Blows to the Head Play a Role in Junior Seau’s Death?
I hope football didn’t do this.
Did the game Junior Seau loved help take his life? We don’t know. We don’t know why one of the greatest linebackers of his generation shot himself in the chest Wednesday and died at 43, leaving behind four children. It’s entirely possible his demons came from other external factors. Maybe they were always there. We don’t know. But given everything we’ve learned in the past few years about the brain damage caused by repeated head trauma, the immediate reaction is to point the finger at football.
That’s the biggest problem the sport has right now. Not bounties. Not performance-enhancing drugs. It’s the mounting evidence that repeated shots to the head could be slowly killing football players. Even if it had nothing to do with Seau’s death, football has lost the benefit of the doubt. Every time a far-too-young ex-player dies after suffering some sort of mental distress, football will be the prime suspect.
Typically, we try not to dwell on the method of someone’s suicide because we fear that might encourage copycats. In Seau’s case, it could be important. In 2011, 50-year-old former NFL safety Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest and died. Only later did we learn why he chose the chest. Duerson had asked family members to donate his brain so doctors could study the long-term effects of multiple concussions. He had shot himself in the chest to leave his brain intact. Duerson’s brain wound up in the possession of the Sports Legacy Institute, a foundation started by neurologist Robert Cantu and former Harvard football player Chris Nowinski to study the long-term effects of concussions. In May 2011, Boston University researchers working with the SLI announced that an examination of Duerson’s brain showed Duerson had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a trauma-induced disease the researchers had found in the brains of 20 other dead players.
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