Football is a violent game, and it always will be. Nobody would watch flag football for 11 hours on a Sunday. But the results of tests taken on Junior Seau's brain following his suicide last year show why it's important for the NFL to keep pushing tougher concussion standards.
A joint report from ABC News and ESPN revealed that Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is connected to long-term head trauma. After watching him fly around an NFL field as one of the league's top linebackers for nearly two decades, it's not a surprising outcome.
The report states that CTE is a disease that was found in other former football players as well. Over time, it can result in result in dementia, memory loss and depression. Due to that, Seau's ex-wife, Gina Seau, believes prevention and education is key:
I think it's important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from CTE. It's important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don't want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes.
Stories like Seau's should go a long way in getting players to realize the importance of taking shots to the head seriously. It's understandable that players want to fight through the fog to help their team, but they are putting themselves at serious risk by doing so.
A perfect example from late in the season is New York Jets quarterback Greg McElroy. Jane McManus of ESPN New York reported that he hid concussion symptoms from the team's coaching staff before finally alerting them after several days when it became too much to handle.
McElroy is the ideal example because of his standing within the league. He's a fringe roster player who was finally given a chance to shine after the continued struggles of Mark Sanchez. Numerous players around the NFL find themselves in similar situations throughout a season.
Since McElroy knew alerting the staff of his head injury would likely result in missing the season's final game—which would have been another start for him—it's easy to see why he struggled with the decision. After all, he might never get another chance.
Illustrating what can happen if players continue to push the limits should help guys like McElroy realize why it's simply not worth it. That's the education side of it.
On the prevention side, the NFL still has work left to do, though progress has been made. The league has cracked down on shots to the head by enforcing in-game penalties and postgame reviews by the league office.
Defensive players aren't happy about it because it affects how they play the game, but as the Seau case shows, it's helping them over the long run as well. Good players will find a way to adapt, especially when they consider the alternative of concussions.
At the same time, the NFL is protecting itself against ongoing litigation brought forth by former players who are concerned about their health. It's an issue that isn't going to disappear from the radar any time soon, so it must continue to be addressed.
Striking the right balance between maintaining the level of intensity that makes the league so attractive and safety won't be easy—the growing pains were obvious throughout the season—but it's a necessity, not an option.
Again, the inherent violence of football is never going away. That said, it must be toned down in order to ensure players can enjoy long, successful careers and still be able to enjoy their lives once the time to hang up the cleats arrives.
Seau was always a tremendous leader on the football field. Hopefully the results of his tests force players to take pause when it comes to head injuries, leading them to a brighter future.