Junior Seau (January 19, 1969 - May 2, 2012)
While details of the death of Junior Seau are still undetermined, his death bears a striking resemblance to other suicides and deaths from violent means that have been associated with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in professional athletes. CTE results from repetitive closed head injury wherein degeneration of brain tissue and the build-up of tau protein occur. This results in a progressive condition where dementia-like changes occur, along with mood swings, cognitive decline, memory problems and physical impairments. Previous to this self-inflicted gunshot wound, Seau had been arrested for domestic violence and had driven his car off of a cliff (reportedly due to fatigue) in 2010, potential behavioral warning signs for CTE. While not known for being concussion prone, Seau, a 12 time Pro-Bowler, amassed over 1,500 tackles in his NFL career and was an aggressive player even from his younger days in football. His brain is likely to have sustained thousands of small to large concussive forces throughout such a lengthy career.
Seau's death via a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest closely parallels last year's death of Dave Duerson, NFL safety, who shot himself in the chest and died. Only later was it disclosed that Duerson shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be donated for study to discern the effects of repeated concussion. Duerson's brain was studied by the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), a Boston University based foundation started by neurologist Robert Cantu and former Harvard football player Chris Nowinski to study the long-term effects of concussions. Their examination of Duerson's brain showed he had CTE, with similar findings in the brains of 20 other dead players. Perhaps in this desparate, tragic act, Junior Seau also was sparing his brain, which had already been through so much. May the Seau family find comfort and Junior Seau rest in peace.