By HOWARD FENDRICH, Associated Press
Junior Seau's suicide is troubling NFL players.
No one knows precisely why the 43-year-old Seau shot himself in the chest at his oceanfront home May 2, less than 2½ years after the end of his Pro Bowl career as a linebacker. What is clear — and cause for concern among other players — is that he reached some serious depths of despair.
"To see a guy like that, in such a dark place, to take the action he did ... makes you think about life after football and what it's like, and what you'll be going through, when that time comes, mentally," said Colts linebacker A.J. Edds, who is entering his second NFL season. "This might have been what people needed to open their eyes a little bit about what might happen down the road. How do you go forward to prevent it? Hopefully some good can be found from a horrible situation. Hopefully that's one silver lining — that it might help other guys keep from getting to a place like that."
In 40 interviews with The Associated Press during the last two weeks, many players voiced growing worry about the physical and emotional toll professional football takes. Seau's suicide resonated among the 13 rookies, 17 active veterans and 10 retirees, with more than half of each group saying it pushed them to consider their future in the sport or the difficulties of adjusting to post-NFL life.
It's one thing to read about hundreds of guys they've never heard of suing the league because of neurological problems traced to a career long ago. It's quite another to find out about Seau, a charismatic, recent star for the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots who played in the Super Bowl.
"The difference with Junior for many folks my age or younger is that I played against Junior a bunch. He was a peer. It's more impactful. Not to suggest I had a great friendship with Junior or knew him off the field. I didn't. It's simply closer to home for me than a guy who played in the '70s or '80s," said Pete Kendall, a starting offensive lineman from 1996-2008 for the Seahawks, Cardinals, Jets and Redskins. "All of those kinds of situations are horrible, but Junior's situation probably would have people re-examining things."
Indeed it did.
Even less-experienced NFL players in their mid-20s were forced to face some complicated questions in recent weeks.
"You can't avoid thinking about how the game might be affecting your future. Even something as small as forgetting where I put my keys. I know everyone does that from time to time, but am I forgetful because of football? Have I already done damage to my brain playing the game?" Packers tight end Tom Crabtree, who's played two seasons in the league, wrote in an email.
"When you see a guy we all assume to be so happy and successful take his own life, it's disturbing. I worry about how happy I am with life right now and wonder if the damage is too much to overcome. ... It's like these brain injuries really turn you into another person," Crabtree wrote. "It slowly chops away at your happiness. Nothing you can do about it."
He was one of a dozen players who, unprompted, mentioned brain disease or concussions in connection with Seau, even though there has been no evidence of either with the linebacker, who played from 1990 to 2009.
"The obvious questions arise: Was it depression? Brain damage? I've been reading a lot of different articles about it. I personally believe that concussions will definitely give you some sort of brain damage. Was that the cause? We won't know for sure until they examine his brain," former Chargers, Dolphins and Vikings receiver Greg Camarillo said. "But it definitely makes you think, as someone who has played this sport, about the damage that can be caused."
Explained rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu, chosen by the Bengals in the third round of April's draft: "You kind of wonder about your safety and your health and wonder if you'll be like that one day."
Players frequently mentioned that Seau's suicide prompted heartfelt conversations with spouses or close pals.
"As soon as something like that happens, you start calling all your friends to make sure they're OK, just checking on everybody," said Ken Norton Jr., who retired in 2000 after 13 seasons as a linebacker for the Cowboys and 49ers and now coaches that position with the Seahawks. "It just opens your eyes and makes you more aware of what each other is going through — and ask that extra question, give that extra hug, to make sure there aren't any problems we don't know about."