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Junior Seau is best known as the face of the San Diego Chargers during the 90s. A perennial Pro Bowl linebacker who also was a noted member of the community, winning the 1994 Walter Payton Man of the Year award. But his legacy may soon reach beyond the gridiron into the science lab and the courtroom. When Mr. Seau committed suicide on May 2 by shooting himself in the chest the battle over concussions in the NFL may have gained its most noted victim. However, to understand how Mr. Seau’s death will affect the legal battle the death of Dave Duerson must first be explored.
Dave Duerson played safety and was a member of the 1986 Super Bowl winning Chicago Bears. Like Seau, Duerson won an NFL Man of the Year Award and went to several Pro Bowls. But their greatest similarity may be an unprovable one. On Febuary 17, 2011, Mr. Duerson committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Duerson left a note next to his body requesting his brain be analyzed for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), something Seau did not do. When Mr. Deurson’s brain was analyzed by scientists at Boston University they found CTE present.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a disease that is perceived to be a product of concussions, and is linked to careers in NFL football. A symptom of CTE is depression, and the link between concussions and CTE is frequently denied by the NFL. Without any letter being left, it is unknown whether Mr. Seau killed himself in that manner in order to preserve his brain for analysis, or whether the similarity with Duerson’s death is just coincidence.
Regardless of the reason Mr. Seau killed himself, there is already controversy about what to do with his brain. Only days after his death, the Seau family decided it was going to allow Seau’s brain to be examined for CTE to determine whether it may have played a role in his death. But shortly after that decision, the family has announced it is reconsidering whether to allow the brain examination to go forward.
If the Seau family allows the brain inspection, and if CTE is discovered, the growing movement linking a career in the NFL with CTE will have its highest profile victim. If CTE is not discovered, this is just a player who unfortunately took his own life. The danger in Seau’s brain being investigated and no CTE being found is that it provides a case with the highest profile athlete exhibiting no link between a suicide and an NFL career. Either way, Seau’s death will unavoidably be brought up by one of the sides in the many pending lawsuits against the NFL over the consequences of concussions suffered by players.
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