Junior Seau Made Them Say "Ow"
It was a perfect name for a middle linebacker. Expected to make a hit on every play - either lining up opposite the running back, or cracking on the tight end crossing, or smashing through the offensive line to arrive in an a bad mood at the quarterback. He was the league's premier linebacker for years. He inherited the league's toughest dude title from the likes of Dick Butkus and passed it on to Ray Lewis. He was a bad-ass in the heart of the defense with a heart of gold off of it.
People kill themselves. People in the depths of depression or who believe their life is spinning out of control decide to end it all. Loss of a business, a spouse, a drug addiction that can't be shaken are all reasons why people feel that life is not worth living anymore. They are out of their mind with sadness and despair. But, we know, that those thoughts are all transitory, albeit in weeks, months, or years. That bankruptcies can be resolved, new spouses found, addictions treated. But what if your mind is being affected by repeated blows to the head? What if your brain can't heal to allow you to move forward and make better decisions?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people who have been had multiple concussions or forms of head injury. At its worst, the brains of those with CTE appear similar to people who have severe Alzheimer's or dementia. Except it occurs typiclly decades before dementia normally sets in. It is most commonly found in boxers, but increasingly it is seen with retired players in football and hockey and increasinlgy in soldiers who've been in combat. It was first diagnosed back in 2002 when doctors did a post-mortem on Pittsburgh Steelers' Hall of Fame Center Mike Webster. His post-football years were a mess to say the least - dementia, depression, chronic pain, and amnesia. It was Webster's decline that led to investigating his brain.
Subsequently, numerous other athletes have had their brains examined after they died. NHL tough guy Bob Probert, pro wrestler Chris Benoit, and former NFL safety Dave Duerson all showed they had significant CTE.
Football used to be a deadly game. Back at the turn of twentieth century, there was an outcry about how many players died as a result of head injuries. The difference back then was that they didn't wear any helmets. So helmets cam in, first leather, then hardened plastic. And with the hard plastic and soft lining, the helmet became a weapon. The primary point of contact for players on a lot of blocks and tackles. "Lead with your head," was taught for generations. The result was a harder hit but also a harder direct hit on the brain. But now, it just didn't show up as severely as a direct blow to an unprotected head. And, the effects were allowed to accumulate. Experts estimated that Mike Webster had been in the equivalent of 25,000 car crashes during his playing career!
The NFL has a major problem on its hands. A true superstar kills himself and suspects himself that he has CTE. Does every retired NFL player or contact sport athlete have CTE? Certainly not, but it seems to be way higher than the general population. Seau's style of play, not reckless by any means, but centred around hard hitting, will be scrutinized. The NFL, still in the midst of the bounty scandal, has taken significant steps to assist with brain research. But, if Seau was found to have significant signs of CTE, the NFL will have to re-examine exactly if the game it peddles is truly safe for it players. Can you say, "Ow?"