Junior Seau's Death Goes Beyond Football and Concussions
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It doesn’t make any sense.
A jolly, gregarious man by many accounts, Junior Seau seemingly had a good life. Fame, fortune, respect, loving children and a girlfriend.
A history of chronic headaches shouldn’t be enough to convince a 43-year-old man with all of the above to end it. And do so in such violent finality.
It doesn’t make any sense, yet that’s precisely how depression and mental illness works.
A traumatic past can often be enough to bring one to the depths of despair. But Seau got to live his dream for 20 years, playing in the NFL, much of it for his hometown team.
A bleak future is cause for many to end it all. Yet wouldn’t an inevitable induction into the Hall of Fame be motivation enough to tough it out and witness an event that serves as the pinnacle moment for many?
Sadly, it apparently was not for Seau, and with no note left, we may never know precisely why.
But that’s how depression works, a cruel and unforgiving disease that often comes with little to no visible symptoms. Beastie Boy Adam Yauch also died earlier this week, of cancer. I bet no one told him, during any point of his affliction, to “snap out of it.” Yet those with depression and mental illness hear that advice all the time.
And historically, professional athletes are not immune.
Sometimes, the pieces seem to fit together. In 1986, Donnie Moore was the closer for the Angels and one pitch away from clinching the franchise’s first ever pennant. One pitch later, a Dave Henderson home run put the kibosh in those plans.
Two years later, Moore was out of baseball. Less than three years later, he was dead, courtesy of a self-inflicted gunshot.
“When he was cut by Kansas City, he'd really been depressed about that,” said his daughter, Demetria Moore, who witnessed him first shoot her mother three times before turning the gun on himself. “I mean, here he is, the high-life career...then all of a sudden, it's gone. He comes back home...and the marriage, the family, is all destroyed. I mean, what else does he have left?”
In Moore’s case, the trials and tribulations of baseball, the only job he ever knew, perhaps eventually took its toll.
In other cases, perhaps Seau’s, the end result may have been more physiological than emotional.
We have seen an alarming trend in recent years of former NFL players taking their own lives, most notably Dave Duerson and Andre Waters, two stand-out defenders who played on two of the best defenses to ever take the field, the 1985 Bears and 1991 Eagles, respectively.
Subsequent research revealed brain damage in both men, most likely caused by years of ferocious and jarring on-field collisions. It is possible, if not probable, that studies will show similar results for Seau.
But even if they don’t, depression and mental illness needs to be addressed more aggressively in professional sports.
(The ease of which Seau and others can access such a lethal weapon to pull off the deed is nauseating in and of itself, but that’s another column for another site for another day.)
Ten years ago this week, I was fortunate enough to over-plan my own demise, got too drunk to pull it off, woke up hungover and lacking the ambition to give it another go, adopted a pet a couple days later as a way to assure myself that my life was not just about me, and sought additional help shortly thereafter.
Ten years, a wife, a stepchild and an infant daughter later, and how I feel about my life continues to take a back seat to the welfare of the others who are a part of it. And even so, maintaining a healthy mental well-being remains a constant battle, inexplicably at times and probably always will.
Whether it’s dealing with a heartbreaking loss or the frightening great unknown of what retirement may behold or coping with the daily chronic pain that the sport left as a residual from years of laying it on the line, athletes must know that there are resources readily accessible to assist them.
It’s up to their respective leagues to make it happen, both during their playing days and especially after.
And whether it’s related to years of crushing concussions or simply years of something more organic—be it Josh Hamilton battling addiction or Delonte West or Maurice Clarett battling their own personal demons—is irrelevant.
It’s too late to make it make sense for Junior Seau. But it’s not too late to ensure that others, even casually considering the option, know they have other options readily at their disposal.
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