Junior Seau 1969-2012
Junior Seau, a former star NFL linebacker, committed suicide on May 2, 2012, leaving behind questions of whether the head trauma he suffered throughout his 20-year career caused symptoms that led him to take his own life. He was just 43.
Although a note was not found with his body, depression and suicide are two common hallmarks seen in former football players who endured a career filled with hard hits. A Fox News report explains Seau’s is just the latest in a series of suicides by former NFL players. These athletes include Terry Long, Andre Waters, and Dave Duerson.
Duerson even left specific instructions to donate his brain to science in order to study the damage done by the repeated concussions he suffered during his playing days. In order to preserve his brain for researchers, Duerson shot himself in the chest last year.
Though it appears Seau left no such instructions to have his brain studied, he also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. The coroner’s office has received family approval to examine Seau’s brain for signs of long-term damage.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
Scientists who study the brains of these athletes are looking for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy explains that CTE is a “progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.” Players in a highly violent position, such as linebacker, have the highest risk of developing this condition.
A Reuters report explains that over 1,500 former players have sued the NFL for head injuries they sustained. These suits allege that the league concealed the link between football and brain injuries.
In its defense, the NFL has directed attention to its recent efforts to take into account these health and safety issues. According to Reuters, the league “has cracked down on hits to the head, and stiffened rules that bar players from using their helmets as a weapon through head-first contact, which is subject to fines and suspension for repeat offenders.”
However, these recent moves come after decades of trauma suffered by former players. Just last month, former NFL safety Ray Easterling also took his life after suffering from what his wife said were the effects of his playing days with the Atlanta Falcons. Easterling suffered from depression, insomnia, a loss of focus, an inability to organize his thoughts, and trouble relating to others.
USA Today reports that he was the lead plaintiff in a group of seven former players who sued the NFL last August. That suit also claimed the league “failed to properly treat players for concussion and tried to conceal for decades any links between football and brain injuries.”
Are Head Injuries & Suicide Connected?
Although experts are conflicted as to whether Seau’s suicide was related to head injuries he sustained during his playing days, virtually everyone agrees more research into the connection between head injuries and the risk for depression and suicide needs to take place.
MSNBC reports that these suicides have helped expose the lasting dangers of concussion and repeated head trauma. Today there is a far greater awareness and appreciation for the seriousness of these injuries, and changes to the way athletes are protected, treated, and screened are likely to continue.