Share this article

print logo

Even in death Seau gave of himself

The news was shocking because of the victim involved, less so when looking back and adding up the variables. Junior Seau played linebacker for 20 seasons in the NFL. He was celebrated as a bruising hitter. He became a troubled man, one who once drove his car off a cliff.

Police suspected that Seau committed suicide Wednesday afternoon in his home outside San Diego. The facts will show he died from a gunshot wound to the chest. He was 43 years old, another former NFL player who passed away much too young.

A few years ago, we would accept such facts and conclude he was another athlete who couldn't survive in the real world, became distraught with his personal life, grew depressed and killed himself. Not this guy, not this time.

Such a simple theory is tough to swallow given what we've learned about concussions, how they cause a brain disease that can ultimately lead to depression and death. We'll know more once Seau's brain is examined, but it shouldn't take medical experts to figure out what happened.

Seau had markings that were consistent with victims of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a brain dysfunction caused by repeated hits to the head. Concussions don't cause every problem, but I'll be convinced until hearing otherwise that he killed himself in an effort to kill his disease.

We'll never know how many concussions he suffered during his career. A dozen? Two dozen? It seemed plausible given his aggression, his position, his tenure. There were reports involving Seau in recent years that suggested erratic behavior, including the driving incident after a domestic dispute in 2010, before he pointed the gun to his chest.

Don't be surprised if he joins other players who died tragically and were later found to be suffering from CTE. West Seneca native Justin Strzelczyk, after months of irrational behavior, died when his speeding vehicle collided with a gasoline tanker during a chase with police on the Thruway.

Seau's story sounded eerily similar to that of Dave Duerson, the former Bears safety who shot himself in the chest after telling his wife his brain needed to be examined. Eagles safety Andre Waters committed suicide after he retired. So did Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long. NHL tough guy Derek Boogaard died from a cocktail of oxycodone and booze after suffering from depression.

Other victims can be found in other sports whose only connection to one another was CTE. It was diagnosed the only way possible, upon the victim's death. The list of victims, long ago disturbing, is certain to grow as the collisions pile up and the years pass and the suffering continues and players feel they've reach a point of no return.

It's scary, and it's sad. Strange but also fitting, Seau died on the same day the NFL handed down a one-year suspension on Jonathan Vilma for putting up $10,000 for headhunting in the Saints' bounty scandal. Defensive ends Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove and linebacker Scott Fujita were suspended for three games or more.

The NHL has been cracking down on hits to the head amid persistent debate, and the NFL also has been addressing the issue. The leagues are taking steps in the right direction that could reduce brain injuries, but there's no way to eliminate them. The players and people cheering for them can do little but sit back, watch and wonder.

Regardless of his fame and fortune, Seau had a reputation for giving back more than he took from football. It sounds like he was intent on giving back again when he decided to shoot himself in the chest rather than the head. It was his way of donating his brain to medicine. And that's no surprise, either.