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Junior Seau's Death Reminds Us (Again) That Athletes Are Human

Will Robinson |
May 3, 2012 | 9:07 a.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

Though iron-tough on the gridiron, Seau (center) encountered the same personal problems the average person does (Creative Commons/Dave Sizer).
Though iron-tough on the gridiron, Seau (center) encountered the same personal problems the average person does (Creative Commons/Dave Sizer).
First and foremost, Junior Seau was not a football player. Junior Seau was a man, like one you would see on the street. He was not without his faults on or off the football field, though the "on-the-field" part presented very few faults for the world to see. Off the field, some, but solely kept to the innermost thoughts of Seau.

In recent years, the NFL family has been afflicted with former players committing suicide, notably Dave Duerson in February 2011. Duerson already promised his brain for brain damage analysis. Duerson shot himself in the chest to preserve his brain for science.

But to this point, no player as decorated as Seau succumbed to depression (as he is suspected of doing) Wednesday morning. Seau was only two full seasons removed from wearing pads. He died in the same fashion as Duerson.

He is now the eighth member of the 1995 San Diego Chargers team that went to the Super Bowl to pass away.

Unfortunately, it takes stunning moments such as this to remind everyone that our heroes are fallible. They are humans, susceptible to the same emotional triumphs and pitfalls as their fervent fans, no matter how immortal they look on Sundays.

Athletes are intensely scrutinized constantly -- see the flak LeBron James received when he left Cleveland or when he "fails" in the fourth quarter. They represent the pinnacle of human performance, modern-day gladiators. Fans want their favorite players to represent the best of them. They are already better athletically, thus they should be held to a higher moral standard. They are the role models for our youth, constant examples of how to carry one’s self. At least, we like to think so.

Similar to most people, I have friends who endured a bout with depression. It stuns me to think that someone could have thoughts of ending everything. I have harbored very sad, depression-like feelings. But never to the extent where I believed death was my only escape. I wish I could empathize. But never being in a seemingly-hopeless situation such as my friends' or Seau’s causes me -- and assuredly many others -- to ask, "Why did he do this," and, "How could this have happened?"

No one will know, and very few can truly understand his pain.

The worst part of Seau's situation is that his friends and family lost a lively, friendly man. And they will never truly know why.

There has to be a longing and a desire to have been there for that person. Marcellus Wiley expressed such sentiments on his radio show this morning after learning about his former teammate and friend passing.

Though the opinion is the minority's, it needs to be addressed (such as this guy): No one knows exactly what ailed Seau. He could have been severely depressed, inhibiting rational thought. The only thing anyone knows is that he needed help and didn't seek it.

He could have had CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a condition which has plagued Duerson, John Mackey, Forest Blue and Chris Henry.

His legacy will not exclusively be No. 55 at USC, his ten-straight All-Pro teams, or his 12 Pro-Bowl appearances. It should be for sweeping changes the NFL must make to better monitor its players, retired and active, for depression, CTE and other post-playing conditions.

But even if that were to happen, his loved ones will champion his ultimate memory: his warm spirit, kid-like enthusiasm and big heart. Wiley spoke of how Seau was his favorite teammate because he had never met a player so talented that would push his teammates like Seau did and treat them as equals. Saints center Eric Olsen recounted a story from when he was in high school, and Seau’s actions on the field lifted his spirits.

And even in such tragedy, Olsen's story can bring a smile, albeit bittersweet, to one's face that will emulate Seau's in his prime. And that's an enduring, indelible legacy in and of itself.


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