Junior Seau's suicide raises the issue of traumatic brain injuries
This week, football great Junior Seau pointed a gun at his chest and killed himself. It is an unusual method of suicide, one that we saw in the death of another football great last year. Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bear, also shot himself in the chest, specifying that he wanted to preserve his brain for the study of head injuries. In recent years, two other players - Andre Waters and Ray Easterling - have commit suicide, and many others have died far too young under troubling circumstances.
While many were stunned by Seau's death, some had seen troubling signs in Seau's behavior in recent years... an arrest for domestic abuse, an accident where his car went over a cliff.
This inevitably raises the question of head injuries, concussions, and traumatic brain injury. These injuries often do not come into full evidence until years after the helmet is retired. The progression includes anger, stress, relationship problems, memory loss, personality change and dementia.
"Dr. Robert Cantu, of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, raised the possibility that Seau might be suffering from the disease during an interview with the Buffalo News a year ago, after the retired player’s car accident. Now, the sport of football must find out for sure. Seau may well have spared his brain for that purpose."
Both Seau and Duerson are dramatic examples calling attention to a problem. Many other retired players have lesser known problems playing out in depression, substance abuse, life-threatening weight problems, and the ravages of old injuries. Certainly, player safety is something that the sport and we as a society need to examine.
Seau's death is a public example of the the tragedy of suicide and the pain that it inflicts on survivors. Every day, about 89 people commit suicide, and few of those deaths command headlines. Suicide is common among people who are clinically depressed - an issue we discussed recently in our post about Mike Wallace's battle with depression leading to a suicide attempt. Depression is treatable and treatment is quite effective, but it often requires intervention by a loved one for the person to get help.
You don't have to play professional sports to suffer a traumatic brain injuries. Many of our military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have TBI; car crash and fall victims often suffer TBI. For more on preventing, treating and living with traumatic brain injury, see Brainline - here's a handy topic list, which includes sports injuries.