The news of Junior Seau’s apparent suicide today wasn’t one of those completely life-altering moments, where you’ll always remember where you were when it happened, but it wasn’t far off.
It’s the sort of thing that you hear – no matter where you are – and say, “what?” even though you heard very clearly what the other person said. You just want them to repeat it, so you can try to wrap your mind around it.
It’s sad. But for people who followed the teams that he played on, it’s also a flat out shock. Obviously, details need to come out before I get too deep into any sort of character study, but judging from what I hear and what I watched when he played, hearing that Junior Seau killed himself is hard to make sense of.
I remember when he was charged with domestic violence in 2010, and then proceeded to drive his car off a cliff. That, too, was strange, but on the surface it was just more disappointing than anything else. Athletes are involved in domestic disputes all the time, so when it happened to Seau it made me say “Man, him too?” but then I moved on. When he drove over the cliff and lived, he told police that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Nobody, at least not people I know, thought anything else of it. It was an open and shut case. Hell, I’ve fallen asleep at the wheel before – I could even sympathize.
Then look back at how he played. In regards to his tenure with the Patriots - because those are the years I watched him most closely – it was hard to find a more selfless, driven, positively infectious player on the field. Teammates raved about his leadership, about how his diminished skills weren’t actually any sort of liability because of the type of attitude he brought to the team and then spread throughout the organization. Bill Belichick talked about him in a way that he only talks about his absolute favorite players, like Tedy Bruschi or Ed Reed. In return, Seau lovingly talked about Belichick.
He retired, and un-retired and then retired and un-retired again. He wanted a ring, and he was so driven to get there that it didn’t seem like he could accept defeat. He wouldn’t leave the game until he got a ring – he couldn’t. He was the definition of over-competitive, and it seemed like the driving force behind everything he did was to reach a point reserved for the best. Anything else would be giving in.
A sure-fire Hall-of-Famer who played for three teams, made 12 Pro Bowls and was a six-time All-Pro, maybe eventually realizing that he couldn’t reasonably play football any more after 2009 was the source of whatever was going on inside his head. Some people do something their whole lives, and then when they’re told they can’t they have a hard time adjusting to the world. Seau wouldn’t be the first person to suffer from that type of thing, and he wouldn’t be the last either.
Like I said, though, I don’t want to speculate. I’m sure, over the next days and weeks, things will come out that will shed a little more light on what was actually happening in Seau’s world, and what could have been the cause of somebody who had such a passionate will to succeed to give up.
I turned on the television about three hours after I heard the news, and ESPN has full coverage, as well they should. But they cut to his house, where his mother, Luisa Mauga Seau, was absolutely hysterical. It made it that much worse, and more puzzling, to see that everyone – even Seau’s mother – didn’t suspect that anything was amiss.
Marcellus Wiley said that he heard the news earlier today, but didn’t believe it, so he actually texted Seau to see if he would get a response. Wiley just couldn’t understand the reports that his friend and teammate had killed himself. It didn’t add up.
The text went unanswered.
“Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now,” the Chargers said in a statement.
Who knows. Maybe the signs were there – the driving off the cliff, for instance – but they went unnoticed.
At 43 years old, Junior Seau killed himself. One of the best linebackers ever, the man who couldn’t retire, who wouldn’t give in on the football field, gave in to the real world on May 2, 2012.
So sad, and so shocking.
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