A few days later, I still find myself sickened by the tragic end to the life of Junior Seau. Not because I live in San Diego and root for the Chargers – I loathe the franchise, actually -and not because Seau was this city’s favorite son, either.
His storybook career was something movies are made of; a local kid who made well, was drafted by the hometown team and became a football legend and hero over thirteen seasons playing in America’s Finest City. His tale certainly shouldn’t have ended as it did, but my frustration is rooted in something deeper.
The hypocrisy of the NFL and lack of desire to help its own after players can no longer help the league; it disgusts me to a point where I could care less if the NFL folded up tomorrow.
On a day when Roger Goodell led a witch hunt and rolled out a PR stunt that saw four players suspended for their role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program, Seau stood in his Oceanside, CA home, put a gun to his chest, pulled the trigger and ended his life, unable to cope with a world after football, most likely due to a form of depression that stemmed from too many on-the-field concussions.
Seau wasn’t the first to go out this way, nor will he be the last. Last month former Atlanta defensive back Ray Easterling, a plaintiff in concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL, died in an apparent suicide, as did former Chicago safety Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest last year, leaving a note asking his family to donate his brain to be studied, regarding concussions suffered over a lengthy playing career.
Friday morning it was announced that the Seau family will do the same, according to San Diego Chargers team chaplain Shawn Mitchell, with the motivation of helping other individuals down the road.
“The family was considering this almost from the beginning, but they didn’t want to make any emotional decisions,” Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday night. “And when they came to a joint decision that absolutely this was the best thing, it was a natural occurrence for the Seau family to go forward.”
More than 1,500 player have sued the NFL, claiming that for years the league has hidden the link between multiple concussions associated with football, and brain damage. The latest lawsuit was filed this week, including over one hundred former players, including former Atlanta running back Jamal Anderson, who alleged the NFL “repeatedly refuted the connection between concussions and brain injury.”
Meanwhile the NFL has spent the better part of this week making Jonathan Vilma, and three others, the poster child for everything wrong with the game. The shame of a ‘bounty program’ and the notion that NFL players would – gasp – aim to hurt a player on the other side of the ball.
Vilma took the biggest hit – a year-long suspension – for supposedly helping create the program, with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, as well as offering up $10,000 of his own money to any teammate who knocked a starting quarterback out of the game during his team’s run through the playoffs.
Vilma earned $5,400,000 last season and this past July donated $450,000 to his alma mater, the University of Miami.
When you’re talking about this level of money at this level, $10K is a drop in the bucket. It’s like an average joe putting $100 on Sunday’s game to keep things interesting.
Anyone who truly believes New Orleans players were doubly motivated to win games and take out star players during their run to the Super Bowl courtesy of a $10K bonus – you are completely out of touch with reality and have no idea what really happens inside locker rooms or on the field of battle.
Furthermore, you are clueless to the barbaric sport that is competitive and professional football. The No Fun League is becoming a game of two-hand touch and is the epitome of the ‘pussification’ of America. Ignore the real issue and create a smokescreen distraction by blowing a small matter way out of proportion, complete with the sensationalized headline.
Football is a brutal sport with a kill or be killed mentality. Taking opposing star players out of the game is never openly discussed, but it’s an underlying theme every time two teams take the field. Especially when the ultimate prize is on the line; the big game.
Beyond that, is there not already an official ‘bounty’ in place as NFL players earn bonuses for reaching divisional and conference title games, as well as reaching and winning the Super Bowl?
Members of the New York Giants each earned $172,000 last year in post-season bonus money – $88K of which came from winning the Super Bowl. So in essence, every Giants defender had 88,000 reasons to take out Tom Brady back in February; almost nine times more than the money Vilma supposedly threw in the Saints’ pot.
But punish those Saints and punish them good. Pretend to make an example that the NFL “won’t stand for this type of behavior”, despite the fact that every team and hundreds of players do the same thing week in and week out. ESPN’s Mark Kreidler touched on it earlier this week.
“In the end, Jonathan Vilma is a prop. He’s a tool being manipulated by a commissioner trying to make much larger points.
Which, when you think about it, is not so far removed from the role that Vilma and his teammates play in the NFL in general. These are pieces on a chess board, only now they’re being moved around for other purposes.
Commissioner Roger Goodell’s one-season suspension of Vilma was so over the top that it had to be for effect, and indeed it was. Sending Vilma off the field for the same amount of time as Sean Payton, who as head coach of the Saints can be held directly responsible for the bounty scandal, is ludicrous — but Goodell isn’t interested in the appearance of fairness here. He is sending a message via jackhammer,” wrote Kreidler.
Crucify Vilma and sweep Seau under the rug. That’s the goal here. A distraction tactic against the real issue; the fact that in the NFL, players are nothing more than pawns on a chess board and when they’re no longer in the league, may as well be taken out to pasture.
Goodell has an opportunity to be a difference maker and instead is playing the role of Gestapo. Why not create a legacy that is bigger than dollars and cents, instead of just falling in like like his predecessors, Paul Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle, who together ran the league from 1960 to 2006, when it became all about maximizing revenue instead of the game and fan experience?
Goodell has the power to change everything, but like the standard politician and cardboard cutout, he’s another yes man who just falls in line … occasionally mixing it up on draft day, trying to earn some street cred with his bear hugs and fist bumps.
You can’t turn on an episode of HBO’s “Real Sports” without seeing a story of a former NFLer hobbling around, in a vegetative state or living in some form of poverty. Over-the-hlll men who played the game, either before there was big money, or having squandered away their earnings, and left with nothing as the big machine rolls on.
The NFL doesn’t take care of their own and they don’t give a rat’s ass about the fan, either. Ticket prices. Concessions. Parking. It’s now a $500 day if dad wants to take Johnny and Janie to Sunday’s game to see their heroes.
Heroes that eventually wind up face down with a self-inflicted gaping hole in their chest, unable to cope with life after football.
The NFL needs to hear this message loud and clear, but is too busy, fingers in ears and focused on public relation stunts – like singling out a group of players for doing something everyone is doing. Goodell and his army are nothing more than an annoying red light camera, looking to nail someone for something.
Concussions cause depression and life after football is proving impossible for a handful of guys. Guys who aren’t properly educated. Who never saw their playing days ending. Who never learned to properly manage money and make so many poor decisions that they turn a would-be dream life into a nightmare.
Seau didn’t waste his money, but in the end wasted his life, checking out at forty-three. There was so much life to live. Four kids left behind who needed a dad, as well as a close-knit Samoan family of which he was the patriarch, like it or not.
In a moment he “solved” his issues and life questions, but inevitably left his family and community with a wound that will never heal. And why? Because he didn’t know what to do after his football days ended? Because he was only seen as an on-the-field gladiator? Because machismo kept him from being able to seek help for depression and to get in touch with his feelings?
How do you get a league only concerned with money to start focusing on individuals. Especially when the individual is no longer driving revenue or playing a part as a cog in the system?
It’s as big a question as all the ones surrounding the tragic end to Seau’s tale, neither of which look to provide any answers anytime soon. – C.B.