Junior Seau Suicide Brings Tough Questions for NFL, College Football

Could it be that all those hits taken by professional and college ball players have a long-term effect—even a deadly effect—on the players?

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Any suicide is tragic. The grief and miscomprehension by the surviving family, the guilt they may (generally wrongly) feel over a loved one's decision to take his or her own life—it's so much more awful than the profound sadness one feels over the natural death of a friend or family member. Those of us who are, gratefully, mentally well tend to view the episode with the perspective of a mentally well person, seeking to attach some reason to it. Was the person disappointed in work or in love? Was he or she about to be exposed in some sort of scandal? But the maddening truth is, there is nothing reasonable about suicide. If there were, the suffering person could reason himself or herself out of it. Severe depression, it is said, is like a cancer on the soul.

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Former San Diego Chargers player Junior Seau's apparent suicide carries another layer of tragedy, since it raises some troubling questions about the sport of football itself. Seau is not the first professional or college ballplayer to commit suicide. Most recently, former NFLer Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest last year—and left his brain to science so examiners could see what might have happened to his brain. Could it be that all those hits, all those concussions professional and college ball players suffer, could have a long-term effect—even a deadly effect—on the players?

I love football, and I would be lying if I didn't admit to enjoying a good "hit" on the field (though I prefer a field-long completed pass or a graceful run). And football players are now much more padded up and protected than they were decades ago, as are players in other sports (I'm still rattled by my memories of watching the Buffalo Sabres when I was a kid, and knowing which guy on the ice was Craig Ramsey, since he was the only one wearing a helmet). But perhaps the pro padding (and the painkillers and cortisone) has given the league license to push for a more violent game. The recent and abhorrent scandal over coaches putting "bounties" on opposing players heads is certainly some proof of that.

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Seau was only 43, and left behind three children. The video of his mother weeping in grief is enough to move any of us, even those of us who didn't know him. It's hard to imagine how any good could come out of a man's untimely and unnecessary death. However if the college and professional leagues could take a serious look at coming down harder on damaging hits on the field, it wouldn't bring back Seau or Duerson, but it might save someone else.

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