Junior Seau: On His Death, Concussions and Violence in Football

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst IMay 3, 2012

SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 29:  Linebacker Junior Seau #55 of the San Diego Chargers stands on the field during the NFL game against the New England Patriots on September 29, 2002 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California.  The Chargers won 21-14. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Junior Seau is gone. 

The former San Diego Charger, Miami Dolphin, New England Patriot and 10-time All-Pro was found dead in his northern San Diego home on Wednesday in what police are initially ruling as a suicide. 

Right now, we don't know what internal demons Seau was battling, how long he fought them nor the cause of them. 

Could this have stemmed from concussions he suffered during his illustrious and violent NFL career? (Seau's family insists, according to TMZ, that he "never complained about concussion-related medical problems and didn't appear to be suffering from depression.")

Maybe, maybe not. Time and science will be the judge. For now, that doesn't matter.

Seau's death serves an overwhelmingly sad and harsh reminder that repeated head trauma may be at the root of such a tragedy.

While concussions or repeated hits to the head may not have been the cause here, the fact remains that they could have played a role. It's odd that Seau decided to shoot himself in the chest rather than the head, leaving behind a brain that could ultimately be studied

We have heard of Ray Easterling and Dave Duerson, two more former NFL players who died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds over the past year. 

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But Seau's high-profile status and lovable personality have shined a critical light on a subject that has fueled much controversy and debate. 

Ironically, his death occurred on the same day when the NFL handed down severe punishments to New Orleans Saints players responsible for, as well as funding, the infamous bounty program. 

Some players like the Dolphins' Reggie Bush voiced their disagreement on Twitter literally moments before the Seau news broke and was confirmed: 

Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh Steelers defender James Harrison chimed in, as did teammate LaMarr Woodley.

You see, that is precisely the problem with sports today, and the one fundamental problem of the game of football itself.

This ultra-macho notion that the NFL is going soft is being viewed incorrectly by far too many people, and far too many role models.

Attempting to structure a safer game for players that are indeed people inside their shiny helmets, guys that should go on to live full lives after they have retired, is a good thing. 

Recently, the league has learned so much about the potentially lasting effects of repeated head trauma that it has become the centerpiece of Roger Goodell's early tenure as commissioner.

Most humans, for some reason, have a primal desire to witness some type of violence. Think back to the days of the Roman gladiator. The promise of violence is a scary, yet exhilarating aspect of the beloved game of football. I enjoy seeing a big hit just as much as any fan of the NFL. 

But you will never see me yell at my TV or scream at the top of my lungs from my seat when a flag is thrown after a player is struck squarely on his helmet, especially by another helmet. 

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 8:   James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackles  Colt McCoy #12 of the Cleveland Browns during the game on December 8, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers won 14-3.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

I'll get over the 15-yard penalty. That player might not. 

He might return on the next play, or maybe in three weeks after doctors clear him for action. But the resulting damage of the devastating jolt to his skull could loom for years, even decades, then arrive at the worst imaginable time. 

Even the guy who delivered the crushing and wildly applauded blow is susceptible to residual injuries. 

Throwing more flags is meant to deter these types of hits, but increasing the amount of penalties will never completely stop them from happening. Still, the practice needs to be more widely accepted by players, coaches and fans alike. 

Going to extreme lengths to keep its players as safe as possible must be the top priority for the NFL. Who knows if it truly is or ever will be, with a crop of supremely talented and incredibly hyped prospects entering the league every year. But a safer work environment should be of the utmost importance.

Even if the NFL institutes a litany of new rules, regulations and guidelines to improve player safety and to safeguard itself against future lawsuits, that won't be enough.

The real dilemma lies within the game of football.

Concussions are in the spotlight every season, but what about the small collisions that occur on every single play at every single level of football across the nation? 

Don't you think those add up? They do. 

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 04:  Brandon Moore #65 and  Nick Mangold #74 of the New York Jets block against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 4, 2011 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The huge hits are what make the news, but the cumulative clashes between the nose tackle and center every down can be just as catastrophic, and we never hear or read about them. 

Unfortunately, that's one part of football that can never be changed. 

After all, football can only get so "soft" before it's no longer football, right? 

Seau's death is downright depressing, as are all the deaths and crippling injuries of athletes who dealt with head injuries during their pro careers. But how about the tens of thousands of guys that never make it big?

They are spread out across the U.S. and must live with these ominous symptoms without the money or the fame.

That's the saddest part. 

Will all of this change the views of parents? Will they happily allow their sons to take part in Pop Warner football after more scientific advancements warn them about the long-term affects of head injuries?

The NFL is in trouble. Actually, the game of football is in trouble. It's a gloomy but true thought.

Just like the fact that Junior Seau is gone.

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