I would like to preface the following article by stating that I have the utmost respect and admiration for the life and honor of both Junior Seau and Dave Duerson . My condolences to their families and friends and anyone else these wonderful men may have touched.
Consummate professionals, Leaders of men, Warriors. These are just a few of the terms used to describe Junior Seau and Dave Duerson. Seau, a 12 time pro bowler and 8 time all-pro, was also named the NFL Man of the Year in 1994. Duerson, likewise, also went to multiple pro bowls, earned the NFL Man of the Year award, and won 2 Super Bowl rings. Renowned throughout the league, both of these men exemplified what it meant to be an NFL player. Teammates and opponents alike had respect for these men and were never afraid to let people know the inspiration both men may have had in their lives.
Tragically, both of their lives were ended suddenly by the stroke of their own hand. Their lives after football were successful as well. Duerson went on to own a chain of McDonald’s restaurants and turned a struggling sausage company into a 60 million dollar plus business. Seau also had success in the food industry opening his own, self named restaurant which subsequently closed down just 2 weeks after his untimely death. Management citing that without Junior’s charismatic leadership it just wouldn’t be the same. Seau also had a clothing line aptly named “Say Ow” clothing. So the question arises, why did these men, respected by all, take their own lives and why did they do so in the same fashion, leaving their brains intact for medical research?
The answer looks more and more like CTE. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease, usually diagnosed post-mortem in individuals with a history of multiple concussions and other forms of head trauma. Seau admittedly never reported his concussion symptoms and played through several instances where he should have sat out and allowed the swelling on his brain to subside. Whether these decisions were made out of toughness, disinformation, or sheer stubbornness is up for debate. The bottomline is that Junior Seau saw himself as invincible and portrayed that in his actions to his teammates on the field. Notable anchors and analysts were brought to tears upon Seau’s death due to the fact that they claim they never even knew he was in trouble.
Medically, Seau had been diagnosed with insomnia and was actively taking a prescription of Ambien. Although Seau left no note upon his suicide, Duerson did. The note stated that he had shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be examined at Boston University, the base of operations regarding CTE research. The same can only be assumed of Seau. Today more than 4,000 of the 12,000 living former NFL players are part of a class action lawsuit against the very league they played in. Which brings me to my next point. Without question, some of these players have jumped on the lawsuit bandwagon under false pretenses, whether its a financial decision, a vendetta due to poor retirement options, or a show of solidarity. But many of these former players have legitimate reasons to want answers and compensation. The NFL has called it’s past procedures regarding concussions as negligent and independent investigation has shown that the league was made aware of possible repercussions as early as the 70’s.
I myself have been guilty of criticizing Roger Goodell’s implemented policies that have somewhat “softened up” the game play. As much as we may not like the new rules and regulations agreed upon by the competition committee and in the newly negotiated CBA, the NFL as a multi-billion dollar corporation, has a right to protect itself and its players from further scrutiny and action. That being said, there is still an underlying issue that really hurts the case of those players with their names attached to the lawsuit.
Current players in the NFL have openly admitted to hiding and playing through concussion symptoms. I have done it. My father did it. His father did it. In the NFL, if you sit out a game due to concussion you can very well lose your job, thus resulting in an alteration to the rest of your career. Ask Alex Smith. So when a player like Greg McElroy, says that he was planning on lying about his symptoms because he finally was being given an opportunity to start in the NFL, it speaks volumes to mindset of players in the league past and present. Locker rooms around the league are filled with peer pressure resulting in players having to “man up” and not let their team down. Players in this situation are willing to do what is necessary to get on the field including lying, playing through pain and dizziness, and even taking prescription pain killers and anti-inflammatories to get through the game.
Look, I know these guys signed up for this. When you decide to play the game of football you make an informed decision knowing full well that it is a contact, violent sport. The issue to me isn’t that the NFL is trying to cover up medical issues. The issue is that they have not been transparent in disclosing all of the information that they may have had. Remember, the research on CTE is cutting edge. As the players are learning about the disease, so is the league. So the next time you or I sits down and complains about a ticky tacky penalty for a blow to the head, or hitting a defenseless reciever, consider that from a legal standpoint the league is doing what is necessary to cover it’s own butt. If there weren’t 4000 plus players suing them there might not be as drastic and stringent of rule changes. Keep in mind that it can only get worse from here. Currently there is no rule protecting players in the trenches form such helmet to helmet blows. Anyone who played a position in that area knows that a collision between a linemen or fullback and a defender can be just as jarring.
Players in the league need to realize that until they are honest and upfront about their physical ailments, the league will continue to do what it has to to protect the players and itself as a whole. Although the players of the past are trying to take action it may be too little too late for some. The legacy of players like Dave Duerson and Junior Seau will live on though they themselves will not. Warriors, Leaders of Men, Consummate professionals. May they forever rest in peace.