Around the same time Roger Goodell was getting ready to hand down his punishments to the Saints players involved in Bountygate, Junior Seau’s girlfriend walked into to his home in Oceanside, California to find him dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
That these two events happened to fall on the same day brings to mind a certain Alanis Morissette tune. The actual degree of connection between these two stories, however, is up for debate. Seau, over his 20-year NFL career, was never diagnosed with a concussion. Of course being diagnosed with a concussion no further proves how many brain injuries a player has had than getting a speeding ticket proves how many times a driver speeds.
Who knows how many times Seau endured head injuries – after all, you had to at least appear healthy in order to remain on the field, and our knowledge of brain injuries was far less advanced when Seau played than what it is now. Back then, a “case of dizziness” was something to be cured with a quick breather and some smelling salts. These are much different times now.
My initial plan upon hearing about the Seau tragedy was to make some profound connection between the suicides of men like Seau, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, and former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson, and the implications of the NFL’s quickly growing epidemic with head injuries. Dave Duerson killed himself in February of 2011 by shooting himself in the chest, but before he died he sent text messages to his family members asking that his brain be donated to science to study the impact of concussions. Seau killed himself in the same manner – a gunshot to the chest – and although a connection can be made, no one really knows at this point why Seau chose suicide or what was going on in his head at the time. There’s plenty of reading material out there from which you can draw conclusions. That’s not the point that I’m looking to make here.
Seau’s suicide is shocking to many, for no reason more important than how he acted with the media and how he treated other people. He was a prolific linebacker, both in college and in his professional career, but he was widely revered as one of the nicest stars in the league. I retweeted a story that Eric Olsen, a New Orleans Saints offensive lineman, told on Twitter a few hours after the news broke. Here’s the story:
@EOlsen69: Wow this is a tough one.. When I was a frosh in HS Junior Seau worked the Jay Fiedler Football camp and at the end of one of the days he…
@EOlsen69: Challenged any1 to a 1 on 1. Being one of the ‘big’ kids, I was volunteered by my buddies and went up in front of the whole camp to face…
@EOlsen69: This monster of a man. Shaking in my cleats, he gave me a wink before a coach gave the cadence. He let me pancake him. And he sold it too…
@EOlsen69: I can’t even tell you how good I felt at that moment; it changed me forever. The whole camp cheered for me, a chubby kid that didn’t know…
@EOlsen69: If he even liked football. From then on I was addicted. All thanks 2 this 10 time all-pro that felt like making some snot-nosed kid’s day…
@EOlsen69: Doesn’t seem like much but it meant a lot to me. Sorry for the essay just had to share. RIP Junior I’ll never forget what you did for me.
A little bit after I retweeted it, I got this response from @rjaaya:
@Rjaaya: @Ruthless_Sports that was a very touching story you retweeted. Really showed the kind of person Junior Seau is. Unfortunately, people may ..
@Rjaaya: @Ruthless_Sports .. remember how he died, rather than how he lived.
At this point I had to scrap what I had been writing and rethink the entire piece. Rjaaya was right – as a media-consuming public, we are so used to that rubbernecking mentality. ESPN is busier playing video of Seau’s grieving mother on repeat than they are focusing on the positive aspects of his life. Analysts by the boatloads will break down this tragedy and find a way to make it relate to present controversies. I can’t fault them – my initial thought was to do it myself. Tragedy has shock value, and shock value gets viewers. Shock value gets pageviews. Shock value SELLS.
This situation shouldn’t be about that. Although I didn’t know Seau personally, nor did I ever meet him, I’ve heard stories about his warm, kind personality. Situations like the story that Eric Olsen told are touching and should weigh heavily on our hearts and minds while we consider this situation. As bystanders, we may look for the gritty details, but those who knew Seau would want him to be remembered differently. Take 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, a former teammate of Seau’s, for example:
“I, along with the entire NFL family, the San Diego community and those who shared a life with Junior, grieve the loss of the ultimate teammate and friend. I am saddened that I was not there for Junior as he had always been for his teammates and friends.
“The qualities I most respected in Junior were the caring and respect he showed to all those with whom he came in contact. One of my fondest remembrances as a professional football player was looking across the locker room after playing my last career game with the Chargers and knowing that I had shared that moment with one of the greatest teammates and competitors the game has ever known. The moment moved me to get off my stool, approach Junior and ask him to trade jerseys. It’s the only time I had done that in my career.”
In the coming days, there will be plenty of time to speculate as to why Seau chose to end his life. Perhaps it was the pain of divorce or failed business ventures. Perhaps it was the concussions. Perhaps life without the game that he loved to play for so many years was no longer fulfilling. But why he did what he did is not important, not now.
What’s important in the immediate aftermath of Seau’s suicide is the impact that he had on the people with which he crossed paths. He was a man that was known for his glowing personality. He had a smile that was infectious. Rather than remembering the tragedy surrounding his death, we should remember him for the happiness he brought to others with that same kind of smile. That’s how he would have wanted it.