Tragedy struck the National Football League on May 2, when former Patriots linebacker Junior Seau was found dead in his home after he shot himself in the chest. Seau was one of the more well liked players in his community and in the league by both the players and the executives.
So why did one of the greatest linebackers of all time who had almost everything to live for and had so many people that loved him decide to take his own life? That's just what head injuries can do to you. It makes you vulnerable to suicidal thoughts.
Seau's autopsy revealed that he was suffering from severe head trauma before his suicide occurred, which makes us believe that his NFL career indirectly caused him to end his life at age 43. All of the helmet-to-helmet and helmet-to-ground contact that Seau enduring during his Pro Bowl career caused him to sustain severe head trauma and injuries that ultimately proved fatal.
The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell are taking steps in the right direction to try and help treat and prevent concussions and other head injuries sustained by players. They've made improvements in helmet designs and have increased penalties on "head hunting" players. Despite all that's been done, there's still work to be done. And Junior Seau's death made us all realize it.
One player that has spoke out about Seau's death and concussions in general is longtime Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, who battled several head injuries over his career playing football. Johnson walked away from the game of football in 2005 after 10 gruesome years of football. Johnson spoke at Boston Children's Hospital over the weekend about the "terrifying issue" that caused Seau's death
"It's corrode or explode," Johnson told a conference on pediatric concussions at Boston Children's Hospital on Friday. "And it all exploded by killing (himself)."
"You can't tell me the head trauma he had over his career didn't affect him," Johnson said. "That was the tip of the tipping point for me. ... It makes you take inventory on your own mortality. If that can happen to him, I've got to be more diligent in how I live my life. ‘Cause it's a road I don't want to go down."
Johnson made news back in 2007 in an interview with Channel 5 ABC when he questioned the judgement of team trainers and his head coach when they evaluated him.
"It's as clear as a bell, ‘I had to see if you could play,'" Johnson recalled Belichick saying, according to The New York Times.
"I was put in a position where I felt compelled to play against doctors' orders, so I did," Johnson said Friday, adding later that he held no grudge against Belichick, the Patriots or the NFL.
As a fan, it's easier for me to say this in the offseason, rather than on game day if I saw a valuable Patriot player go down with a concussion. That's sort of the general consensus of how training staffs and coaches are wired - like fans. If the Patriots are down six with two minutes to go and have the ball and Tom Brady gets hit hard and appears concussed but conscious, it's more likely than not that the team would let Brady continue playing if he's "passable". Winning seems to come first in this situation. Not safety.
Where I agree with Johnson is that the training staff, who are employees of the team, are more likely to try and "pass" a player to return to the field if they are of vital importance to the teams success than one who does not. Johnson, as well as Junior Seau constitute as just some of those players that would likely get clearance before the next guy would.
Just last season, Browns starting quarterback Colt McCoy was brought back into a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers after suffering a concussion via a James Harrison helmet-to-helmet hit. Even though he continued to fail the customary concussion test, Browns training staff members and head coach Pat Shurmur said Colt seemed "OK", and they sent him back into action in a close game. As Daffy Duck would say: Despicable.
Concussions aren't avoidable in football. As long as tackling is used in football, concussions are sure to follow it. However what can be augmented is a team's handling of a concussed player. Whether it's someone like Tom Brady or Danny Aiken showing signs of concussion symptoms, you must proceed with caution. As hard as it may seem as a fan, having what happened to Junior Seau happen to your favorite player now isn't worth winning one football game.
Here's to the NFL imploring better means of concussion evaluation techniques, and for them to continue providing counseling for players who sustained these injuries. These players served the league well, now it's your turn to repay them, NFL.