By Jim McCarthy May 3, 2012 0 comments

Junior Seau’s Suicide: Not Just a Typical “Tragic Event”

I suspect I’m not alone in hating the way “tragic deaths” are handled in the media.  It’s overplayed; it’s maudlin; people who hardly knew the person in question existed before they were dead feign a whole bunch of feelings about the deceased.  It’s dumb and unbecoming for everyone involved.  But alas, I doubt there’s much I can do to change that.

But let’s talk about Junior Seau.  This wasn’t a story of a “life tragically cut short” (though it was) or “a sad end for a special person” (though it was.)  It’s not even like the pointless and depressing story of Steve McNair’s death.

When the news broke yesterday, it was first reported as  “shooting at Junior Seau’s house,” then that “Junior Seau has been shot and killed,” and then “Junior Seau committed suicide.”  As soon as I heard it was suicide, I knew what was coming next: he shot himself in the chest.

Why? Because that way his brain remains intact for examination after he’s gone.  Because Junior believed that something had gone wrong with his brain.  Because of football.

Peter King  (@SI_PeterKing) from Sports Illustrated tweeted this yesterday:

“‘I wonder how many parents woke up today, read about Seau…and said: ‘I’m not letting my kid near a football field.'”

Which of course is what I’ve been saying will happen for a while now.  Here’s what I said before:

“…football exists as it does because moms put up with it.  This is how it works: for football to be played at the incredible level of preparation and athleticism that we see in the NFL, there must be a robust college system.

For there to be such a system, colleges have to lay out the cash to support football teams, which are expensive.  For them to be able to do that, there has to be a lot of interest on the part of students, alums, and others to go to and watch on TV (in bigger schools) these games.

For that to exist, there needs to be media coverage and a high level of athletic quality in the college game.  For that to be there, High Schools must produce enough football players for 1% of them to be good enough to play in college.

For that to happen, there have to be enough youth programs to produce high school talent.

And for that to happen, moms have to be comfortable letting their sons play.  Yes, I know dads are involved, and they probably are the ones pushing football.  But if it’s just a matter of a scraped arm, a bruise or at the outside, a broken bone, moms are going to allow it to continue.

But if it’s brain damage…

This could be a long-playing issue, but gradually, the mothers of potential youth players could slowly starve the NFL of talent.  Sure, there will always be people willing to trade brain function sometime in the future for the possibility of wealth, fame and glory now, but if you don’t have the numbers in the programs, you simply don’t get the product on the field that you have today.

Since then, the story’s only gotten worse when it comes to head injuries in football.  Coaches deliberatelytargeting the heads of players known to have had concussions?  Former players creating a class action lawsuit over their head injuries?  Yes, and there’s a lot more of this to come

Football’s a tough game, and that’s part of what makes it fun to play and fun to watch.  On the other hand, there are very few fans who want to see anybody, especially their sports idols, reducing to forgetful, hobbling, bankrupt old men just a few years out of the league.  And if there is a subset of those fans, I think it’s safe to say you can ignore them as irrelevant to the success or failure of the league and the product.

Especially compared to those women all across the country who will ultimately decide how their sons spend their Saturday afternoons.”

I said  “there’s a lot more of this to come.”  I had no idea it would be this.  As a football fan, I feel a certain amount of guilt today.  I don’t hold with the cretins out there who say “I don’t care what happens to these players. I just want to be entertained.”  As I said in the previous post, those people, while they exist, are irrelevant.  They’re not driving the bus; they’re just the noisiest passengers on it because they’re lucky to be there at all, to be relevant at all. Who cares what people like that, who obviously don’t care about anyone else, think?

Here’s the thing: football is going to have to change or this is, as I’ve said, the beginning of the unraveling of the world’s strongest entertainment property.  Forty years ago, boxing, along with baseball and horse racing, was on top of the world.  Arguably the most popular sport in the world.

Boxing?  Horse racing?  Yep.  Big things get small.  It happens all the time.  Horse racing is a different topic, but boxing declined in no small part, I believe, because of Muhammed Ali and his Parkinson’s disease.  To see him go from what he was to what he became was too much for people to bear.

Yesterday, I had the same feeling thinking about Junior Seau reaching the point where this felt like the only option available to him.  This is some seriously dark stuff, and it isn’t over yet.

Share and Enjoy

    Comments are closed.