Why isn't Junior Seau's Death Sparking a More Serious Discussion About Concussions?

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By Rob Kotaska

“Judge not lest ye be judged”
What a beautiful refrain
The studio audience disagrees
Have his lambs all gone astray? ~ New Test Leper, R.E.M.

I’ve been torn about whether to add my voice to the legions who have already expressed their views on the death of Junior Seau. Depression hits closer to home than I wish it did.  I’ve battled with my own demons, and can say with a certainty that I wish I did not possess that depression is no joke. There are things I said and did that feel like an out-of-body experience. How could I have been so careless and cruel.  Even as people reached out, I pushed them away, certain that if they could see my insides that they would reject me to the core.

So for those lucky enough to never have hit the lowest of the low, consider yourselves lucky.  And know that to judge someone and their actions when they are afflicted with that disease is foolhardy and wrong.

On the other hand the media coverage has once again left me saddened.  It is completely understandable that those who knew Junior would extoll his virtues and choose to remember the many brighter moments in his life in the wake of such dark times. Who can begrudge a grieving friend or loved one that luxury?  But some of the media has gone out of their way to make Junior an overly sympathetic figure, a victim of the game he loved.  And while there is truth in that, the responsible journalist surely should not overplay that angle.  There is a greater good to come from this than to whitewash a horrible death.

The worst example of  such an offense I saw was in a column from the Buffalo News by Bucky Gleason.  I can’t imagine what he was thinking but here is what he ended his column with:

Regardless of his fame and fortune, Seau had a reputation for giving back more than he took from football. It sounds like he was intent on giving back again when he decided to shoot himself in the chest rather than the head. It was his way of donating his brain to medicine. And that’s no surprise, either.

There is nothing selfless about suicide.  There is no place in this story for suicide to be justified, no qualification that can make that bitter pill, sweet. We can empathize, sympathize, but it would be irresponsible to rationalize. Bucky and others in the media who are trying to do so are wrong. There is another tract they should take.

When connecting concussions and their impact on athletes and their mental state the media should be more careful to point out the many resources available for those who are afflicted as well as how widespread the problem is. Take this story beyond the NFL.  According to WebMD:

The analysis of data from hospital emergency departments across the nation revealed that:

  • Roughly half a million ER visits for concussions occurred among 8- to 19-year-olds between 2001 and 2005.
  • About half were sports-related, and 40% of sports-related concussions involved children between the ages of 8 and 13.

The ultimate benefit from this tragedy should be the opening of a dialogue about the real effects of concussions not only in the NFL, but in high school sports.  There are just under 1700 NFL players.  There are over 6.9 million high school athletes.  Let the legacy of Junior Seau’s death be that it allowed us to take this issue more seriously, to look for those who need our help, not just in the days that he trends on Twitter, but going forward.

Also: Athletes Who Died Young

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