Looking under the cover of Junior Seau’s suicide
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com May 12, 2012 6:24PM
Junior Seau’s death made the cover of Sports Illustrated, but the look on his face detracts from the horror of his suicide.
Updated: May 13, 2012 2:48AM
Thoughts for the week:
I’m kind of confused as to why former NFL linebacker Junior Seau’s suicide by gunshot to the chest got so much attention recently when safety Dave Duerson’s suicide by gunshot to the chest a little more than a year ago did not.
Oh, we heard about Duerson, indeed. But he didn’t make the cover of Sports Illustrated, as Seau did.
Was it because Seau went to 12 Pro Bowls and Duerson only went to four? Probably. Yet Duerson played on two Super Bowl championship teams and Seau played on none.
But was it also because one death is an anomaly and two deaths might be a trend? Yes.
Actually, Seau was the third gunshot suicide by an NFL veteran in 15 months. Former safety Ray Easterling killed himself two weeks before Seau. And if you want to go back a little further for NFL suicides, you’ve got Terry Long and Andre Waters. And numerous players, such as Wally Hilgenberg, Mike Webster and John Mackey, died early from dementia or degenerative neurological disorders likely caused by blows to the head.
My main problem with the SI cover?
It’s a closeup of Seau smiling wide, eyes crinkled in delight, his perfect white teeth contrasting beautifully with his powder-blue Chargers jersey.
This wasn’t a showbiz exit, folks. This was self-inflicted blood and guts in the house where his children lived, where his loved ones were sure to see the mess.
Suicide isn’t pretty. It might be sad, tragic or the inevitable manifestation of a fatal mental illness. But pretty? Never.
◆ I saw Denver Nuggets 6-10 forward Chris ‘‘Birdman’’ Andersen at a basketball shoe party in New York last winter, and he was drinking a vodka and cranberry. A friend in the hoops business said to me, ‘‘This isn’t good.’’
Birdman has had his problems with drinking and drugs. On Thursday, though, lawmen raided his home near Denver and seized child pornography and computer hardware, according to news reports. Andersen has not been arrested or charged with anything, but he apparently has been under investigation since winter. On Friday, his attorney said the issue is an extortion attempt by a former girlfriend.
The Nuggets, who are playing the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA playoffs, have suspended Andersen ‘‘indefinitely.’’
The thing you notice about Birdman more than anything else are his head and facial hair (sometimes a faux-hawk or ponytail, sometimes a goatee or mountain-man beard) and his tattoos.
Everybody’s got tats in the NBA. Dennis Rodman started the overkill, and guys such as Kenyon Martin and DeShawn Stevenson (Abe Lincoln on his neck) have worked it deeper. But nobody has Birdman stuff. The 33-year-old has the full arm and neck work (‘‘FREE BIRD’’ from ear to ear) and, being pale white, has inked colors that darker players never show: yellow, orange, lime green, purple, even aqua.
But this last oddity, if something comes of it, is the way he’ll be remembered. Sadly.
◆ I loved how Yankees general manager Brian Cashman explained at pitcher Roger Clemens’ perjury trial why he never would condone having his players shot up with steroids, HGH or other illicit stuff: ‘‘That would be putting our assets at massive jeopardy with high risk.’’
Feel like pieces of meat, Yanks? Can’t imagine why.
◆ For many years I have tried to get middle linebackers — and some outside linebackers — to explain to me the thrill they get from head-on collisions, the kind that would terrify (and hurt) normal humans.
I got some good stuff from Willie Lanier, Jack Lambert, Mike Singletary and others, but the best explanation ever comes from former 49ers middle linebacker Riki Ellison, writing in the L.A Times in a tribute to Seau.
‘‘The answer begins . . . when a young [middle linebacker] first experiences the joy of contact football. The fact is that when you receive what I would refer to as a partial but playable concussion, there is a unique feeling of being high, of floating, of being numb to pain and unaware of other distractions. This produces a happy state that translates to a belief of invincibility and a Superman complex. In some ways, it acts just like a drug. You become addicted to that feeling and want more of it. And when you get another hit, it feels even better. When mixed together with the newly found testosterone being produced at that age, it is a special and hidden pleasure.’’
Shot straight into the brain.