Junior Seau suicide signals inherent danger of football
May 7, 2012 9:34PM
FILE: Junior Seau Reportedly Dead
Updated: June 9, 2012 8:14AM
The “paddle-out’’ Sunday with all those folks on surfboards in the Pacific near Junior Seau’s house in Oceanside, Calif., was a nice gesture for the deceased linebacker.
Why, even his former teammate Drew Brees rode a long board out for the water-splashing ceremony.
But none of it changes the fact that Seau shot himself in the chest with a handgun at 43.
None of it changes the fact that Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl player and soon-to-be first-ballot Hall of Famer, had depression and brain issues so severe yet hidden that everyone around him appeared to be utterly “shocked’’ at his ugly self-carnage.
“There was zero warning that anything was wrong with him,’’ former Chargers teammate and team radio analyst Hank Bauer told reporters. Family members agreed.
Is anybody paying attention out there?
How about the 20 seasons of pro football Seau played, and the college football before that, the high school ball before that, the pee-wee football before that?
Warnings? Seau had done enough antisocial and illogical things by the end of his career — including domestic battery and driving his car off a cliff — that he might as well have been dancing with a red-flag cape.
When Hall of Fame center Mike Webster descended into a hole of dark lunacy and fatal dementia by age 50, one family member said after the NFL great had been buried that the cause of death was football.
How many more warnings about the horrors of blows to the head in football — even subconcussive ones — do we need before we no longer are shocked by things such as diminished star athletes ruining their lives and then taking their lives?
Former Bears safety Dave Duerson announced the news for all time when he killed himself with a gunshot to the chest last year and asked for his brain to be studied for the damage he knew was within.
Seau’s suicide is “Duerson II,’’ copycatted down to almost everything but a final note.
Over 1,500 former NFL players are suing the league for concealing facts about the dangers of head blows, claiming the NFL knew as far back as the 1920s about the potential harm.
Common sense should tell the rest of us that beating on a head — allowing the jellylike brain to slam back and forth inside its hard-shell skull — cannot be healthy on any level.
Studies are taking place everywhere, proving everything from the longer the head-banging career is, the more damage can be expected later to the fact that young people’s brains are endangered and forced to regenerate in ways that are different from adults.
The U.S. military is struggling with thousands of returning vets who have brain trauma from explosions, injuries that might have been sloughed off as mere headaches and the like only a decade ago.
The point is, we know.
And we should know the further truth that improved equipment can’t save the brain. Something called ‘‘risk compensation’’ compels athletes to feel safer and work at more dangerous levels when they’ve been told a helmet is “safer’’ than previous models.
Sports such as hockey can stop head blows almost instantly if they had the courage to change the rules and enforce them.
But football poses a dilemma. The head is between the shoulders. It cannot be kept out of collisions.
So rules must change, somehow, and drastically. Maybe weight limits at all levels. Maybe less equipment.
But forget the NFL.
The real issue is the game that the rest of us play, that we let our children play, from grammar school up through college.
Just as much damage to the brain can occur when two skinny-necked kids collide as when two muscled-up NFL beasts collide, men who may have collectively bargained away their safety.
There is no union, no collective-bargaining agreement for young men playing the amateur game. Parents are that union, and their approval or disapproval of the risks for their kid is all that protects that minor from anything that might occur.
Indeed, it’s reasonable to ask what entity will insure a sport such as football someday.
There are investigative journalists out there going after the NFL the way agencies previously went after Big Tobacco and uncovered its massively funded lies.
But, again, the NFL is another beast. The deaths of men such as Seau are simply extreme warnings emblazoned across the sky to inform the rest of us.
Seau’s mother, Luisa, weeping with despair, said in front of TV cameras there in the driveway of her son’s house, “I don’t understand who did this to my son.”
How about football, Mom?
How about the game?