The sports world was rocked by Wednesday’s news that former National Football League star linebacker Junior Seau was found dead in his Oceanside, California home; the apparent victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Local police said the 43-year-old Seau was discovered alive but unconscious by his girlfriend. Attempts by emergency personnel to revive Seau failed. Police said there was no indication of foul play. Seau is survived by his three children with former wife Gina Deboer.
It’s hard to accept that a man as fearless on the field as Seau would apparently find life away from the gridiron too great a challenge. In 2010, Seau drove his SUV off a California cliff following an arrest on suspicion of domestic violence. Despite tumbling 100 feet, Seau was not seriously injured, and later told authorities he’d fallen asleep at the wheel. Suspicions remain as to whether this accident was a failed suicide bid. No suicide note was found with Seau’s body on Wednesday.
Seau is best remembered for 12 hard-hitting years with the San Diego Chargers. Drafted in 1990, he made an immediate impact and was named a Pro Bowl alternate in his rookie season. This was followed by 12 consecutive years of Pro Bowl starting honors. In 2003, Seau was traded to the Miami Dolphins, where he played three more seasons, followed by four injury-plagued seasons with the New England Patriots. Seau decided to retire in 2010, and was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame the following year. Although he led the Chargers to the Super Bowl following the 1994 season, Seau never got to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Seau’s death marks the eighth player from the 53-man Chargers 1994 Super Bowl squad to die before reaching 45 years of age. Two died from heart attacks, another from an enlarged heart, one OD’d on drugs, one was killed in a plane crash, another in a car crash and one was struck by lightning. The manner of Seau’s death mimics that of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest in February 2011.
Prior to taking his life, Duerson left instructions for his brain to be studied for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which he suspected was caused by the skull-rattling hits incurred via the game he and Seau both loved. The condition is being diagnosed more frequently these days among athletes in heavy contact sports – including football, hockey and boxing – and is said to cause psychotic symptoms. There’s no indication that Seau complained of any such symptoms, nor whether his family will request that his brain be examined for signs of CTE. Regardless, a sad exit for such an admired sports figure.