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Junior Seau: The pain of life after football

Death coincides with repeated efforts to learn more about concussions in football.

It's the topic no NFL fan, player, owner or coach wants to discuss.

It, being concussions.

Concussions and years of blows to the head, are killing a startling number of guys we used to cheer for and in the process, are destroying families.

It may take quite a while to find out whether or not concussions played a role in the death of former Patriots linebacker and NFL legend Junior Seau, who reportedly took his own life yesterday in Oceanside, Calif. by shooting himself in the chest.

But in the short term, Seau's death will give a very noticeable face to a cause which has gone largely unnoticed or ignored by NFL fans.

There have been lawsuits and endless stories regarding this topic over the past few years and, in the NFL's defense, the league has responded. They have started to penalize big hits with large fines and frequent flags. They are giving $88,000 a year to retirees with dementia.

Indeed, tomorrow's NFL retirees will be in a better spot than their predecessors. But no matter how big the fines get or how more protective the helmets get, there are sure to be more cases like Seau's.

Former Harvard football player Chris Nowinski founded the Sports Legacy Institute, which is a non-profit organization that dedicates itself to solving the concussion crisis in sports. He is also a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine. Nowinski has been at the forefront of a group of scientists who collect former athlete's brains after they die.

The most interesting study done by Nowinski may have been conducted on former professional wrestler Chris Benoit. In 2007, Benoit strangled his wife Nancy to death and suffocated and killed his 7-year-old son Daniel before taking his own life in their Atlanta home.

Nowinski later called Benoit's father, Mike, and asked for Chris' brain. Studies on the brain found that Benoit had the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient caused by nearly two decades worth of untreated concussions due to blows to the head. Those studies found that repeated concussions can lead to dementia, which in turn can contribute to the strangest of behavorial problems.

In October 2010, Seau drove his Cadillac Escalade off a highway in Carlsbad, Calif. and he and his car tumbled 30 feet down a small cliff. Seau claimed he fell asleep at the wheel, though hours earlier he had had been arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.

Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson committed suicide a year ago, shooting himself in the chest as opposed to the head. Duerson had previously made arrangements to donate his brain to the study at BU. The study later stated that the damage done to Duerson's brain "affected his judgment, inhibition, impulse control, mood and memory."

Goodbye, Junior




A look at the career of the late Junior Seau:



12-time Pro Bowler

6-time first team All-Pro

243 games started (10th all-time)

1994 Walter Payton Man of the Year award recipient
 
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