What I stunner I ran into on the way home yesterday when I turned on my car radio:
Junior Seau is dead.
When I got home, I found an e-mail stamped 11:06 AM from the San Diego UT’s website reporting a “shooting at the Seau residence.” Exactly 30 minutes later, a second e-mail from the same site confirmed the horrifying news.
Junior Seau Dies, A Legend Gone Too Soon
As far as all-time San Diego-area athletes are concerned, Seau is near the top of the list.
From the baseball world I might have to put Tony Gwynn and Ted Williams first, and among Chargers legends Seau would share the stage with Dan Fouts, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Lance Alworth, among others. From the college scene I would also include Marshall Faulk and Gwynn, who also had a SDSU basketball career on the side also.
But discussing this is just a way to avoid the harrowing details of what reportedly occurred yesterday.
Firstly, suicide (as appears to be the case with Seau) is a topic I and anyone very much dreads to personally cover, but we have unfortunately had to do so recently in regards to sports. It is also a disturbing trend amongst recently retired NFL players. And ust last summer we went through three possible cases of professional hockey players (a similarly brutal sport) who all may have possibly chosen to taken their own lives.
The anguish of Junior Seau’s mother breaking down in front of her son’s residence was especially heart-wrenching, asking rhetorically “Junior, why didn’t you tell me you were going???”
Because then someone would have intervened. And that is the worst element of suicide: the ones who are left behind.
Junior Seau apparently chose to end his life. There were possible clues in him texting his three children the previous day, simply saying that he loved them.
With a Hall of Fame call coming and an ocean to surf literally in his backyard, in many ways you would think it should be impossible for Seau to choose to end it all. We all only get a very limited time on this planet, and Seau seemingly hit the lottery by becoming a pro football legend.
But I’m not a psychiatrist, and we are not walking in his shoes and knowing what was going on inside, and the possible toll that 25 years playing the game may have taken on his brain.
On the surface, Seau did not appear to be the all-too-often classic case of a retired football player that had fallen on hard times. In 1998 a good friend of mine took me to his Mission Valley restaurant, which remains very much in business, at least until the news broke yesterday. #55 seemed like someone who had some idea of ventures he wanted to do after leaving the game.
But the fact is that Seau had appeared to become a recluse in the relatively brief time since he finally left the game he loved for good.
There was that weird ‘Sports Jobs’ reality series that he did on the (then) Versus network a few years back, perhaps a clue that this was a man trying to come to grips on what to do post-career.
Or maybe the issue is one of a person dealing with overwhelming personal issues.
Divorced, Seau was involved in an alleged domestic incident in the fall of 2010 before blowing his mind out in his SUV and driving off an oceanside cliff to the beach below. Although Seau claimed to have simply fallen asleep at the wheel, the occurrence had all the markings of a serious suicide attempt.
Whatever the case, one of my favorite professional athletes of my lifetime has passed on at age 43, eerily the same age as Reggie White, another of our most treasured NFL icons. Although Reggie and Junior are different cases, the two do share the reclusive thread of unexpectedly disappearing from public view after leaving the game.
Is Football To Blame?
Is Seau the latest possible victim of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?
That is the condition that has been said to have led to the suicides of (among many) former players Dave Dureson, Andre Waters, and just last month Atlanta Falcons 1970’s safety Ray Easterling. It has become far more than just a mere small sample size. And then there is the ongoing concussion lawsuit against the NFL that now involves hundreds of former players that continues to be played out.
The question then becomes what is the sport of football supposed to do about it? You may not like my answer.
The sport continues to improve the equipment, along with increasing awareness regarding concussions and their short and long-term effects (see Kris Dielman). Now the NFL is on the verge of completely eliminating kickoffs, which would rob the special teams aspect of the game and one of the most exciting aspects of the sport.
Maybe you can reduce the impact the game takes, but the only true answer to eliminate injuries is to ban the sport, which is ridiculous. People take on elements of risk in many hobbies and professions.
People die attempting to climb mountains. Participants die trying to run marathons. Death has always been accepted as a possibility in auto racing from the big leagues to the dirt tracks. One has to sign waivers before taking on ventures such as skydiving or whitewater rafting. Then there is the music and entertainment industry, and the lifestyles that most recently claimed Whitney Houston and many, many others before that.
So do we ban all those pursuits and hobbies also? That shows how ridiculous a topic banning football is.
Brain damage is definitely a factor in the tragic stories of ex-NFL players, but players (at least those who can’t catch a gig in broadcasting) being unable figure out what to do with the remainders of their lives also factors in.
What is scary is that I have feared this very headline in regards to Brett Favre and Terrell Owens, among others.
Already there has been two suspected overdose cases with Owens. After the first, Owens publicist infamously proclaimed that her client had “$25 million reasons to live,” alluding to Terrell’s monetary value of his contract at the time. Well, how many reasons would that give T.O. to die once his skills decline to the point that he’s not even good enough for backwater indoor football?
And as Favre is concerned, I remember a Chargers-Packers game when both Favre and Seau were on the top of their careers and the two embraced during the game. Seau was the Brett Favre of his era on the defensive side of the ball – and the two share similar threads on how long they hung on to playing the game. Obviously, I pray the similarities end there.
And finally, there is the “curse” of the 1994 AFC winning San Diego Chargers, which I did a piece on just last December after yet another player from that squad had passed away. Seau now becomes the eighth player from a group whose average age would now be in the mid-40s to pass away for various reasons, some totally unrelated to football.
Gone Too Soon
I also noted in that article how tragedy had gripped the San Diego sports scene as a whole over the years. And Tony Gwynn has had some health issues in recent years.
I don’t even want to start to think about losing One-Niner, or losing anyone else way before their time.
As with any unexpected death like Junior Seau’s, we are reminded of just how precious and fragile life is. Whatever the reasons or causes of Seau’s despair, they apparently made him not want to live his life anymore.
Hopefully he is at least peace now. The people he leaves behind however certainly are not, and that is the worst tragedy of all.