When I woke up this morning, I was partially expecting a somewhat OK day at the office. We believed that the Saints “bounty” scandal would reach its decision today but instead I was hit with a wave of emotion with other news.
Before the Saints punishments were handed down, I was blessed to receive a press release detailing the Buccaneers’ decision to sign Eric LeGrand. The story warmed my heart. In fact, reading about it, my eyes started to water.
LeGrand to me has been a great inspiration since I worked on the Rutgers team coverage at Bleacher Report in 2010, the season he was injured. Since then I have followed his progress and to this very day, believe that his attitude in life is what we all should strive for.
I was so joyful in the morning about the news. But it would only be a mere several hours later where my joyful heart would break into a million pieces. News started to circulate that Junior Seau was dead and a flurry of emotion overcame my entire body.
I grew up watching Seau when I started to get into the NFL. Seau at the time was the prime example of what it means to be a stud linebacker. He would attack from all angles and played with a passion that made me as a young fan just say “WOW!”
Even when the 49ers beat the Chargers in the Super Bowl in 1995, a part of me felt sad for Seau because he carried his team to the Super Bowl. Even when watching old NFL Films highlights of that Super Bowl, I still feel sad that Seau never won a ring.
And when Ryan Leaf had his infamous blow up at the news reporter, Seau was the first guy to pull Leaf away. The linebacker was simply a great player, great teammate and a great man.
So naturally he became one of my favorite players to watch And over the years, it amazed me that even with 20 years of playing the NFL, it seemed like his body never broke down.
But today, I found out that it broke down inside. It was so damaged that it killed him.
I watched the TV channels as they showed highlights of his career and even the press conference with his crying mother. I couldn’t hold back my tears. I felt like I lost a part of my childhood.
Seau reportedly killed himself but made sure that the gunshot was to his chest, thus preserving his brain for symptoms of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a trauma-induced disease that is common with NFL players that take frequent blows to the head. This suicide was the same approach that former Bears safety Dave Duerson took to ensure that his brain would be used for study.
With former players calling for better health benefits toward head trauma and the current players suffering more and more concussions, it has now become even more serious than ever before. The league not only can destroy a body, but it take a life. And there needs to be action taken to make sure that players’ bodies don’t break down like this.
I can’t say that I know what was going through Seau’s mind prior to the suicide. All accounts from love ones indicated that there was no reason to believe he’d harm himself. But sometimes the brain does crazy things to a person. And sometimes, there’s no way to stop it.
How can someone make rational decisions when their mind is filled with irrational thoughts?
Seau could have sought help but there was no guarantee he even knew that he was depressed. It’s the post-football life that sometimes makes it tough for some players to accept that they’re no longer strong.
Back in September of 2010, Broncos wide receiver Kenny McKinley committed suicide in what appeared to be depression from stress-related symptoms. It came to light that there could have been a chance to save his life if there was a way he got the right kind of help.
That prompted Denver Post columnist Woody Paige to write this column about how he was depressed and considered suicide himself. Instead, he got the right help and is now an advocate for bringing awareness to the matter.
Maybe Seau knew that people cared for him but just was afraid to ask for help. Maybe he was physically destroyed from the inside to not know he needed help. Or maybe the result of all those years of hard tackles destroyed him to the point where he didn’t feel like he had another choice.
One thing Seau knew was that he didn’t feel right. He knew that his mind wasn’t in the right place. That’s why he made sure that his brain would be intact for examination.
As I think back about all the recent deaths and suicides involving NFL players, I’m reminded that no matter how bad things may seem, there are people who care. Living life in fear isn’t the only solution. There is help for those who may not feel like there is any out there.
I urge people that are feeling down to remain with family and friends that are full of love. Be part of a healthy community, like a church group. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help — even if it’s with a doctor.
This suicide may or may not have anything to do with brain damage from playing football. But Seau was living in fear.
Hiding in fear only makes it worse and suicide doesn’t solve anything.
If you are depressed or know someone that’s depressed, don’t hesitate and give the National Suicide Prevention hotline a call 1-800-SUICIDE. There are people there that care and want to help make things better.
There is a way out and no one ever needs to be alone on their journey.