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Steinberg: Seau's death raises many questions

May 05, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg
  • Among the attractions at the 2003 Toshiba Senior Classic Pro-Am at the Newport Beach Country Club was Junior Seau.
Among the attractions at the 2003 Toshiba Senior Classic… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

The self-inflicted death of legendary NFL linebacker Junior Seau sent a shockwave throughout the world of sports last week.

The local community is aware of Seau because he was an amazingly impactful roving defensive powerhouse for USC from 1987 to 1989. Seau played professional football for 20 years for the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots and was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection. His flamboyant playing style and jolting hits electrified fans for years. He was 43 years old.

This is a time for grief and remembrance. Seau was an integral part of the San Diego community and dedicated time and effort to his charitable foundation. He continually helped the USC athletic department. He cultivated friendships and followers everywhere he went. His family needs prayers and support.

Normally, speculation as to causation would be premature, but these are not normal times. The spectre of head injuries and the disastrous lifetime ramifications call for emphatic action.

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It is also time to acknowledge the challenging adjustment process that leaving sports presents for an athlete. Seau had the structure and stability of a football program since he was a young boy. He knew when he had to work out, when he had to play and when he could take a vacation.

He had the camaraderie of the locker room, surrounded by other players. He had the steady adrenaline rush that comes from playing. And then it all ended.

Even with financial security, community respect, children and reasonable second career plans, retired players can become depressed. He undoubtedly had multiple concussion events playing with reckless abandon in the middle of a defense that produces steady auto accident level collisions. There was little focus on all this steady buffeting of the head in his era, unless a player was lying unconscious and carted off the field. But the damage accumulated, and the problem will get worse with the accelerating physics of the hit.

Bigger, stronger bodies are moving at unprecedented speed on football fields.

There is a largely undiagnosed health epidemic that has surrounded contact sports at the youth, high school, collegiate and professional level, and it is a ticking time bomb. For many years a veil of denial has obscured the reality of what the long-term impact of multiple concussions portend.

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