First of month rant — May: Seau warning signs were evident from mysterious crash

Posted: 05/05/2012 in first of the month rant, football
Tags: , , , , ,

It has been three days since football legend Junior Seau committed suicide and there are no clear answers for why the former San Diego Chargers standout would shoot himself in the chest.

As I’ve tried to decipher the situation over the past few days, I keep coming back to my initial reaction on Wednesday upon hearing the initial report that Seau had been shot.

I immediately predicted on my favorite social media site that it was self-inflicted. I also texted a similar message to one of my brothers.

Sadly, the death being caused by Seau’s own hands was proven true less than an hour later.

Perhaps even more sadly, I wasn’t surprised.

Before I tell you why his suicide wasn’t as stunning to me as it was to so many others, let me tell you that I covered Seau for six seasons with the Chargers. I last saw him at a Super Bowl media function in Phoenix a few days before the New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants in February, 2008.

When I asked him a question in the group setting, there was immediate recognition from his facial expressions, the level of his voice and the way he filled up my tape recorder with usable quotes. He knew I was from the hometown newspaper that so many of his friends and people from the past would read.

He was in one of his comfort zones and all was well in his world.

Flash forward a few years later and we can only guess how Seau was coping after leaving the sport and being on the outside of the NFL lifestyle.

He had attempted to retire before and was unable to do so and joined the Patriots. But I think the biggest hint of his struggles to move on from football occurred in October, 2010.

What happened then was the first thing I thought of when reading the initial report of Seau’s shooting.

Seau drove his car off a cliff and survived the plunge even though his vehicle was estimated to be traveling at 60 miles per hour. Seau’s story was that he fell asleep at the wheel.

At the time, it sounded real fishy and I wasn’t convinced when authorities bought Seau’s story. But it was the outside stuff that really raised the red flags that driving off a cliff might not have been an accident.

There seemed to be an inordinate amount of spin control being delivered following the incident – stuff including how Junior Seau has too much to live for and would never kill himself – and my highly trained journalistic antenna wasn’t buying it.

I have seen way too much effort put into covering up minor things by pro franchises and college athletic programs and making sure Seau’s reputation remained intact was certainly something that would be considered worthy of spin control. Particularly with it occurring hours after he was arrested on a domestic assault charge, which was later dropped.

When it comes right down to it, who in San Diego County really wanted to believe that Seau would try to kill himself just because he had been arrested?

Seau was a city icon and one of the most popular athletes in San Diego’s sports history. The guy had done thousands of good deeds for kids and other people he didn’t even know. He was a local institution who led the Chargers to their only Super Bowl appearance.

He was a revered leader for all 20 of his NFL seasons and didn’t fit the profile of someone who would harm himself.

So Seau was given the benefit of the doubt. People of his level of fame and popularity often are.

But I wonder if people close to Seau asked him the hard questions at the time. And if they did, were they easily persuaded that all was well by Seau’s ability to charm folks with his smile and personality?

A lot of athletes struggle to make the transition from superstar to regular person. There will be nothing they do the rest of their lives that even comes remotely close to having 70,000 fans cheer their every move, and they no longer have the structure and purpose that comes along with being a professional athlete.

All the things they have known for years suddenly end – the team meetings, the offseason workouts, the bonding with their teammates and the ultimate exhilaration of winning a football game on Sunday.

Kind of like an Olympian who wins a gold medal in their early 20s – what can possibly top their athletic accomplishments?

Football was Junior Seau’s identity from as long as we all first heard of him and he was one of the top linebackers who ever played the game. That’s a tough thing to just leave aside and it’s an issue thousands of other athletes have had to battle.

There is the strong possibility that Seau was battling depression or could have brain injuries stemming from all those years of ferocious play. The best thing in the wake of the tragedy is that his family has decided to donate his brain for examination and we will get those answers and be able to make the appropriate conclusion.

The thing we all have a hard time with now is attempting to figure out why Seau didn’t reach out for help last Wednesday morning. Why didn’t he call his now-distraught mother if he was struggling? Why didn’t he call Chargers president Dean Spanos – who I absolutely know would have dropped whatever he was doing in a split second to get help for Seau.

Seau was a popular figure who had the means to deal with issues that your commonly distressed person doesn’t have available. Why did his frame of mind prevent him from doing so?

He also had to know his mother would be crushed and that his four children would have to move on in life knowing their famous father took his own life. That is quite a burden for those kids and other family members to have to deal with.

You also wonder what the interaction might have been earlier that morning between Seau and his girlfriend – identified as Megan Noderer. Her frantic 911 call after discovering Seau’s lifeless body is excruciating tough to listen to as she hyperventilates and is in hysterics after returning home from the gym.

So many things left unanswered for now and the outpouring of appreciation in San Diego County for Seau is a reminder of just how beloved he was. Only Padres star Tony Gwynn and former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson have been in the same popularity stratosphere.

One of the saddest things of the situation to me is this – Seau will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame immediately upon becoming eligible and won’t be around to enjoy the occasion.

He certainly deserved to enjoy football’s ultimate honor after having invested so much energy and passion for the game.

It’s sad that suicide is now part of the Seau legacy and hopefully we will get some answers for why he took his own life.

Then there’s also this — perhaps part of his legacy is still to come if it is proven that he suffered major brain dysfunction from playing football.

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