They played the same position in the NFL, acting as the captains of the defense and being counted on to read the offense and make the play.
They were the ferocious ones, tackling from sideline to sideline.
They were the middle linebackers.
Jonathan Vilma is suspended from the League for one year for his part in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. His suspension came one day before Junior Seau’s suicide, which may have resulted from constant headaches and other post-concussion symptoms that wouldn’t leave him alone and drove him crazy with pain until he felt his only option was to take his own life.
Seau has now joined a growing list of ex-NFL players who have killed themselves, it seems, at least in part because of concussions suffered during their playing days.
Seau’s suicide overshadowed the news of Vilma’s suspension. The airwaves were thick with talk over whether the suspension fit the crime and Vilma’s role in the whole Bounty story, but then the news of Seau came out and the suspensions of the New Orleans players were put on the back-burner. A player of Seau’s magnitude deserved tribute for what he meant as a person to so many people.
Seau is by far the biggest NFL star, and the most modern one, to have succumbed to this hideous way of suffering. Possibly, his life and tragic death will be the catalyst for some of the biggest changes to the future of the NFL. But discussing any changes would only be conjecture at this point because no one is able to say, including the commish Roger Goodell, what the future holds in reducing the frequency of combative head injuries.
Now, in the light of Seau’s death and with what they are learning regarding concussions, Vilma should ask himself: is it really worth it to try and come back to the NFL?
Maybe this suspension is Vilma’s lifeline.
Is a life ending at 43 or 44 years old good enough? This age seems to be a threshold of sorts in common from what other players, including former all-pro Andre Waters, finally put up with, before ending things.
They say suicide is the most selfish of acts because of the effects it has on others, but for these ex-ball players it is beginning to seem less selfish and more of a necessity to get away from the demons of living all-day with head trauma.
Vilma can choose to make his comeback, but family members may try to persuade him not to. They might suggest that it is best to let things go as they are and hold on for a brighter future. He has his Super Bowl ring and has played productively for 8 seasons. There’s not that much left to prove, but there is a heck of a lot left to lose.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com