ESPN and ABC News released a joint report this morning detailing what everyone already suspected about Junior Seau: that he was suffering from the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by repetitive hits to the head that is linked to dementia and depression, when he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest on May 2. Seau’s brain was examined by five brain doctors at the National Institutes of Health, who were able to examine it because the family donated his brain for research after his death.
There are plenty of things that stand out in this report, including the absurdity of the fact that Seau never reported suffering a concussion in his 20 years, or the fact that it doesn’t matter if he did. Players don’t need concussive blows to end up with CTE, they just need repetitive hits to the head. Concussions, as Bloomberg’s Jonathan Mahler has argued, aren’t football’s crisis. Football is football’s crisis.
What really stood out, though, is the effect CTE and Seau’s suicide had on his kids:
“It definitely hurts a little bit because football was part of our lives, our childhood, for such a long time,” said Sydney, a freshman at USC. “And to hear that his passion for the sport inflicted and impacted our lives, it does hurt. And I wish it didn’t, because we loved it just as much as he did. And to see that this was the final outcome is really bittersweet and really sad.”
Jake, a high school junior who quit football to focus on lacrosse, added: “He lived for those games, Sunday and Monday nights, you know? And to find out that that’s possibly what could’ve killed him or caused his death is really hard.”
Many of football’s defenders argue that hand-wringing over head injuries is senseless, because professional football players know the risks and choose to play the games anyway. Even if that was true, and it surely wasn’t for players of Seau’s era, the injuries don’t just affect them. Football, the game that dominated the lives of the Seau family for two decades, the game they loved, took away a father and a husband.
The game, the fame, the money, the adrenaline — is it all worth it? For many players, it might be, and it may have been for Junior Seau too. For his son Tyler, though, the answer is no. “Is it worth it? I’m not sure,” Tyler told ESPN. “But it’s not worth it for me to not have a dad. So to me it’s not worth it.”