Is It Irresponsible to Blame Football for Junior Seau's Death?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 15:  Junior Seau #55 of the New England Patriots looks on warm ups before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 15, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Junior Seau’s death is a tragedy for not only the National Football league but the entire city of San Diego. Aside from being one of the best linebackers to ever play the game, Seau was also one of the most generous and well-respected citizens of San Diego.  

When a well-known athlete or celebrity leaves this earth at a young age, people’s first reaction is to begin pointing the finger at someone else.

Michael Jackson died while taking large amounts of propofol, which ultimately led to cardiac arrest. Forget about the fact the Jackson had been struggling with depression and prescription drug abuse for years—it must have been the doctor that “murdered” him.

Whitney Houston had abused drugs and alcohol for two decades and recently died from a heart attack in a Los Angeles hotel room. Forget the fact that Houston was a grown woman who had been abusing drugs and alcohol in a hotel room she was sharing with her 18-year-old daughter.

Forget about the fact that Houston, believe it or not, was capable of making her own decisions in life.

It must have been Bobby Brown’s fault.

Yes, her ex-husband, whom many believe was a bad influence on Houston, must have been the ultimate cause of her death.

And then we come to Junior Seau.

Seau’s death, from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound, once again has everyone joining in the blame game.

This time they are blaming Seau’s possible suicide on the NFL.

Yup, it was numerous the blows to the head Seau had taken over the course of his 20-year career that ultimately caused him to take out a gun and shoot himself through the heart.

It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with depression caused by a chemical imbalance that more than 35 million Americans suffer from.

It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with potential relationship issues he was having, as less than two years ago he drove his car off of a cliff soon after being arrested on charges or domestic violence.

It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with potential financial difficulties he may have been dealing with as mentioned in a Fox Sports article.

And it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that sometimes people take their own lives for reasons that are completely unknown to anyone else.

Suicides unfortunately happen.

However, to suggest that the actual game of football was responsible for Seau’s suicide is not only unfounded but is completely irresponsible.

How many living retired NFL players are out there right now?

It’s difficult to come up with an exact numbers, but if there are 1,696 active players in the league at any given time, and most players are retired before they reach the age of 40, let’s, for argument's sake, say there are 15,000 retired NFL players out there right now (although the true number is most likely far higher).

There have been several NFL players that have committed suicides in recent years, which people have begun attributing to head trauma suffered during their playing days, but let’s look at the numbers.

Let’s say that 15 NFL players have committed suicide over the past 20 years.

That makes up 0.10 percent of all retired NFL players (based on the estimate of 15,000, which is probably a very low estimate).

That’s less than one half of 1 percent of retired NFL players that have taken their lives over the past two decades.

To say that the game of football is contributing to what amounts to a miniscule number of suicides is ludicrous.

What is far more likely is that NFL players often suffer from depression caused by the loss of a lifestyle they had worked their entire lives to achieve, only to see it disappear in the blink of an eye.

Most NFL players had worked towards becoming a professional football player since they were barely old enough to walk. They go to big-time college programs where they are treated like celebrities and then the make the move to the NFL where they earn millions, have 85,000 people cheering for them each week, are national celebrities and are literally living out their dream.

However, this NFL lifestyle that many guys have worked their entire lives to be a part of typically lasts only seven to 10 years.

Now what you have are 35-year-old men, many of whom have been poorly educated or simply pushed through the college system in order to remain eligible to play football, and many of whom might not have made the smartest financial decisions during their playing days, thrown out into the ordinary world with a lot of time on their hands and little idea about what to do for the next 40 years of their lives.

Talk about a situation that might lead someone into a prolonged state of depression.

For someone like Seau, who was a star in high school, college and the NFL, who was the first person in the gym every morning and the last person to leave the training complex every evening, what was he meant to do with the rest of his life?

The first 40 years of his life had been built entirely around the game of football, and in an instant it was gone.

So now what?

Get an office job?

Take up golf?

If you’re looking to blame the NFL for player’s depression or propensity to commit suicide, you’re probably looking in the right place, but not because of the blows to the head.

As previously mentioned, there are probably 15,000 retired NFL players out there right now, yet less than 0.10 percent of them have committed suicide.  

If this were truly an epidemic, as many seem to think, the numbers would be far greater.

The NFL is to blame because it gives players a lifestyle most could only dream of and then takes it away in an instant. It’s called retirement, which is difficult for many people to deal with at any age, let alone at the age of 35 when you are being stripped of everything you had worked your entire life to achieve.

Now if that’s not a recipe for depression, I don’t know what is.

Football is a violent game that often causes lifelong injuries. However, before we begin pointing the finger at the actual game, we need to take a 360 degree view of the entire situation, upon which it becomes glaringly obvious that there’s likely more than just blows to the head that are contributing to depression and suicide amongst retired NFL players.


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