LOS ANGELES, May 4, 2012 — The suicide of former NFL player Junior Seau leaves speculation as to whether or not this was the result of another player suffering from repeated head injuries in the league.
The death of NFL great, Junior Seau, has left a community grieving and sports fans across the country in shock. The suicide of the 12 time Pro-bowler, on Wednesday, is the fourth death in a string of suicides among former NFL players over the last several months.
Seau’s death, following that of Terry Long of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andre Waters of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears, has only opened yet another door in the ever-evolving discussion on the long-term effects of concussions and head injuries involving athletes, especially those in the NFL.
The Duerson Findings
On Monday, Boston University researchers announced its findings on the brain of former NFL player Dave Duerson. The results proved that Duerson’s brain had developed C.T.E. (or Chronic Traumatic Encephalophy), the same trauma-induced disease discovered in 20 other deceased players.
Much like Seau, former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson, was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest on February 17. Duerson had included a handwritten note to his family: “Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank.”
In the months leading up to his death, Duerson complained of his deteriorating mental state to close family and friends. While his suicide surprised many, his desire to help his fellow players was a shock to no one.
Since 2006, the former Chicago Bears standout served on a six-member panel that considered claims for disability benefits filed by former NFL players. In 2007, Duerson stood before a Senate subcommittee and stated that he questioned whether players’ cognitive and emotional struggles were related to football.
The Effects of C.T.E.
In October of 2010, Junior Seau was arrested on charges of domestic violence and only a few hours later was injured after driving his Cadillac Escalade off of a cliff in Carlsbad, California. There was never any true explanation for his erratic behavior and it was certainly uncharacteristic of a man described as a “local hero” and a “league icon.”
While the connection between Seau’s behavior and subsequent suicide are all speculative and unsubstantiated at this point, there is most certainly a pattern similar to that of other players suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or C.T.E.
It is a progressive degenerative disease that has been found to be caused by repeated head injuries. The symptoms of C.T.E. can include: dementia, headaches, tremors, confusion, aggression, and depression. While research groups, such as the one at Boston University, are actively pursuing testing for living patients, C.T.E. can only be determined post mortem via brain autopsy.
Repeated head injuries disrupt the balance of the neurochemicals in the brain. This has been proven to take a toll on the mental and emotional health of those affected by the condition. Over time, the brain has difficulty recovering from the imbalance, leading to a worsening or permanent condition.
The effects of C.T.E. could be a very probable link to the unexplained behavior of both Seau and Duerson. The reasoning for their suicides can only be speculated, but perhaps with further studies we will have a better grasp on the condition that these players are dealing with in their everyday lives.
Changes in Play
It has been reported that researchers from Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy have requested Junior Seau’s brain for examination. There have not been any conclusive reports of repeated head injury to Seau throughout his career, but as a lineman for 20 years, the likelihood of repeated head trauma is high.
This situation combined with that of the recent “bounty” scandal, involving the New Orleans Saints, and the current “concussion” lawsuit against the NFL, involving over 100 former players, only begs the question of what the league will do now.
Last year, the NFL donated $1million to the Boston research group after acknowledging the long-term effects of football related head trauma. NFL Commissioner Roger Gooddell has instilled harsh penalties against the New Orleans Saints involved in the bounty scandal. Even with changes in safety and regulations, will that be enough?
Don’t miss Part II of this series! “CONDITIONED TO WIN AT ALL COSTS”
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