R.I.P. #55

Tragedy struck the city of San Diego yesterday morning when NFL legend and future hall of famer Junior Seau apparently took his own life. According to police Seau shot himself in the chest at his Oceanside residence. When talking about Junior Seau it is important to do so not only as a football player, but as a man. His contribution to the San Diego community has been more important and influential than any one of the 545 tackles Seau recorded over a twenty year NFL career.

The Junior Seau Foundation through its diverse programs has contributed four million dollars to helping young people with desire but without means to achieve their dreams since its inception in 1992. His foundation does this by handing out scholarships, funding athletic fields and giving under privileged children funds to buy presents for their loved ones around the holidays. His stamp on the city of Oceanside and the entire San Diego area will never be forgotten.

Neither will his prowess on the field. As a kid growing up on the East Coast the only players we heard about who played on the West Coast were the ones who played for consistently good teams and normally the most coverage was reserved for quarterbacks or other offensive stars. During his 13 year career with the San Diego Chargers the team had an overall record of 88-120. They made the Super Bowl in the 1994-1995 season but only reached the playoffs three times when Seau was a member of the team.

Despite playing for a team that was mediocre at best everyone knew who Seau was. Even on the East Coast we knew Seau was the best player at his position and remained so for the majority of his 20 year career. He should also be considered the greatest defensive player to ever wear a San Diego Charger jersey and will surely be a first ballot hall of famer. Seau went on to play with the Miami Dolphins for three years before retiring in August of 2006. Four days later he was coaxed out of retirement by the New England Patriots. In 2007 Seau was part of the 18-1 team that fell just short of perfection and providing Seau with the only thing missing from his illustrious career, a Super Bowl ring.

His distinguished career doesn’t need a ring to justify its greatness, although I am sure he would have loved to win one. Seau retired after playing one more year. In the years that followed his retirement Seau remained in the public spotlight through his charity work and as a restaurateur. Seau always seemed to be wearing a smile wherever he went, but perhaps there were some dark parts of his life that even a man as strong and determined as Seau couldn’t overcome.

What’s disturbing is the manner in which he went. Suicide is always tragic but to shoot oneself in the chest seems rare and raises questions about the motives behind the act. On February 17, 2011 Dave Duerson a former defensive back for the Chicago Bears also took his own life by shooting himself in the chest. Before doing so Duerson texted family members and requested his brain be researched by the Boston University School of Medicine. These doctors found that Duerson was suffering from a neurodegenerative disease that’s caused by repeated concussions.

Football is a violent game that involves high-speed collisions between very strong men. The NFL has built an empire on the sport and used its violence as a major marketing tool to increase their audience. However, it is becoming more and more evident that this violence has serious long-term negative effects on the player’s who sacrifice their bodies on a weekly basis to make the NFL one of the most powerful corporations in the world. Maybe Seau was starting to suffer serious side effects from all those years of leaving every part of himself on the football field for 20 plus years of his life.

Why Seau might have taken his own life is a topic that will be studied and discussed and analyzed for years to come, but that is not what today is for. Today and at least for the near future it is time to honor Junior Seau for the great man that he was. Even as an outsider it is obvious that when Junior Seau passed all of San Diego shed a tear for the loss of a beloved native son who will truly be missed.

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