Junior Seau’s suicide devastated the community of San Diego and raised the question of why. Today, that question has been answered. Junior Seau, the famous San Diego Charger #55 had degenerative brain disease after playing 20 football seasons. On Jan. 10, 2013, NBC 7 San Diego reports that “Junior Seau, one of the NFL's best and fiercest players for nearly two decades, had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide last May, the National Institutes of Health told The Associated Press on Thursday.”
Junior Seau had been a famous linebacker for 20 NFL seasons with San Diego, Miami and New England. He retired in 2009. On May 2, 2012, Junior Seau committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Junior Seau’s girlfriend found him in his home in Oceanside which is in the northern part of San Diego.
The studies and analysis done on Junior Seau’s brain were made upon the request of Junior Seau’s family.
After the studies were completed on Junior Seau’s brain, the National Institute of Health (NIH) was able to determine that Junior Seau’s brain showed abnormalities which were “consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).”
Traumatic encephalopathy, also known as Dementia pugilistica (DP) or Traumatic brain injury (TBI), can occur after frequent injuries to the head like a bump, blow, jolt, or direct head impact. While immediate concussions warrant a visit to the hospital, less apparent concussions and damage to the brain might not be visible until, as in Junior Seau’s case, it is too late.
Like in Junior Seau’s case, symptoms of traumatic brain injury due to repeated sports “invisible” head injuries can include memory problems, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and if left untreated, suicide.
The study of Junior Seau’s brain was conducted by several independent experts who examined the tissue of Junior Seau’s brain.
Junior Seau’s suicide propelled the topic of concussions in the NFL and other sports leagues that involve head injuries into the public eye. After reports of other sports players having experienced depression or memory trouble, NIH conducted further research studies which were published on Jan. 7, 2013.
Dr. John Hart Jr. from the University of Texas at Dallas, who was involved in the NIH study of Junior Seau’s brain, emphasized that "Not everyone gets this problem. … It's a more complex issue than [that] has just sort of been thrown out there."
Dr. Hart does encourage more NFL and other sports players to “to get their brains checked out.” For most players, there are no consequences or minor consequences from playing sports. However, getting checked out can bring peace of mind not only for the player but also for the player’s family.
“Ideally, he said, all players would be evaluated before, during and after their careers to check for brain changes. That would help doctors learn more about how head trauma is related to mental decline and dementia - and hopefully avert those problems in future athletes.”
In Junior Seau’s case, San Diegans, and especially Junior Seau’s family, knowing what caused Junior Seau’s suicide brings some closure.
Tyler Seau, Junior Seau’s 23-year-old son said that “"I was not surprised after learning a little about CTE that he had it. … He did play so many years at that level. I was more just kind of angry I didn't do something more and have the awareness to help him more, and now it is too late. … I don't think any of us were aware of the side effects that could be going on with head trauma until he passed away. We didn't know his behavior was from head trauma.”
According to Junior Seau’s wife, Junior Seau’s symptoms included wild mood swings, irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia, depression, and emotional detachment from his surroundings.
The fact that Junior Seau was able to hide his invisible “brain damage” and its severe consequences so well from the public emphasizes the importance of close family members caring for a loved one who is involved in sports.
According to NBC’s report, Junior Seau “hid it well in public … But not when he was with family or close friends.”