Seau Suicide Ramps Up Volume On NFL Violence

By  //  May 14, 2012



OSARITO BEACH, MEXICO – My wife and I were rolling into San Diego, listening to the radio, when the thunderclap announcement struck.

Junior Seau, only 43, had just been found dead of an apparent suicide.

We were not far from the site, which made the unreal seem surreal.

I’ve followed the news these past 10 days, from just south of San Diego across the border in Mexico, and I can’t help but feel that the emerging reports, and all the rhetoric accompanying it, is like a persistent alarm, growing louder and more frequent, it’s cacophonous clamor not to be denied.

This was not just another in the growing list of football tragedies – and that’s not to minimize any that have come before Junior Seau. But Seau was one of the greatest, a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker, the face of the franchise that is the San Diego Chargers, a hometown boy who never uprooted his roots, who even played his college ball at the nearby football power that is Southern Cal.

I didn’t know Junior Seau. At least not well. I was around him during different interview sessions at his locker in the three seasons he played for the Miami Dolphins. I saw him spend time with us once in the press box at a Florida-Georgia game (he sat right behind me) mingling with the media.

All the adjectives you’ve heard and read about him were there, and they were constant – tough, proud, intense, leader, charismatic, respectful, class. Oh, and that smile. A smile as wide as a football field. What a beautiful man.

So when he commits suicide, in the prime of his life …yeah, alarms go off.

Where do we go from here? Where does football go from here?

It is a violent sport. Perhaps too violent. Perhaps? The suicides of ex-players are mounting. And the landscape is littered with others who are left hobbled, crippled and debilitated in some fashion.

The average fan thinks they know how violent the game is, but they don’t. I think I have an idea, but I don’t really, either.

I’ve stood on the sidelines for practices and games – pro and college – and just the sound of the violence is, at times, horrific. Watching from the sanitized confines of our family rooms or even from a safe distance in the stands isn’t the same.

The closer you get, the uglier the game becomes.

I grew up a big boxing fan. One of my childhood thrills was when my father took my younger brother and me to see Muhammad Ali fight an exhibition in Orlando. We both touched his sweaty chest as he waded through the crowd afterward. If there was anyone who sure seemed larger than life, it was Ali.

Years later, when I worked in Los Angeles, I angled to become my newspaper’s boxing writer, especially since many of the big matches were in Las Vegas, which wasn’t too far away to routinely cover.

My first assignment was a Randall “Tex” Cobb match in Reseda, Calif. The several of us there from the media sat ringside, front row. What we witnessed was beyond brutal, but thankfully it didn’t last long. Cobb was knocked out late in the first round, but not before some of his blood splattered on us. I never imagined a man could be beat up so badly, so quickly.

Almost immediately afterward, we were ushered into Cobb’s dank dressing room, where he laid on a table, moaning his way through an interview, his face swelling and discoloring in real time.

It was, in fact, too real.

It made me pause to reflect on what pleasure I got from such brutality.

I never attended or watched another boxing match again.

I wonder, sometimes, if I’m headed that way with football.

Junior Seau has made me pause.

It’s not just me, though.

Just listen to some former greats, and what they have to say.

From former wide receiver Cris Carter, on why he put bounties on opposing players, like Bill Romanowski, because he was convinced they were out to maim him:

“Romo says the bounty didn’t work … yes it did work,” Carter said this past week on ESPN. “It absolutely did work because I got through the game healthy. Here I am 46 years old and I never had a concussion. Here I am 46 years old and I don’t have memory loss. For me the bounty did work. That was money well spent.”

Imagine that. Cris Carter is 46 and considers it a success that he doesn’t have memory loss.

Emmitt Smith, the great Hall of Fame running back and former Florida Gator legend, might not be so lucky.

“Why wouldn’t I worry?” Smith told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram a few days ago. “The evidence is starting to pile up. You are talking to a guy who carried the ball more than anybody in NFL history. So why wouldn’t I worry? I pray about it.”

Many parents are now wondering whether allowing their sons to play football is worth the risk. Not all of those parents are over-protective soccer moms, either. Just listen to what former quarterback great Kurt Warner, who suffered multiple concussions, had to say:

“It scares me to think about the possibilities, the injuries that I see from youth football all the way up to the NFL. It doesn’t mean my kids don’t play. My kids have played and continue to play, but it’s something I worry about. I worry about what my next 20 years will look like. I worry about the hits I took over the last 30 years playing football, and I worry if my kids continue to play, what that could mean for them.”

Shrill? I don’t think so.

The evidence is mounting against football, and it isn’t good:

• Two weeks ago, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, 62, shot and killed himself. His wife said that following his football career, her husband suffered from depression, insomnia and dementia. Easterling was part of a lawsuit against the NFL relating to how the league dealt with brain trauma and concussion-related injuries.

• Last year, former Chicago Bears great Dave Duerson committed suicide in similar fashion to Seau, shooting himself in the chest. Only 50, Duerson asked that his brain be donated to science for examination. It solidified the worst fears – that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a head trauma-induced disease.

Dave Duerson

• In 2006, former Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters shot and killed himself. Later, a forensic pathologist said Waters’ brain tissue resembled that of an 85-year-old man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Waters was 44.

And there’s more. Too, too many more.

The alarm had already sounded.

Junior Seau’s suicide only ramped up the volume and intensity.


  1. Peter, your comments on the Tex Cobb fight brought back memories. I was a young reporter assigned to cover an Akron, Ohio, boxing card. Sitting within spitting distance of the fighters, you see every ugly punch and hear its effect. Some “boxers” were hammered into pulp that night. The blood-thirst of the crowd loved it. I was on the verge of throwing up. As a kid on Long Island, I had listened eagerly to the heavyweight title fights of Rocky Marciano, Floyd Paterson, et al. Don Dunphy’s descriptions were legendary — but also gave a sanitized view. Being ringside left a totally different, and negative, impression. Like you, I couldn’t stomach the fight game any more after that up-close-and-personal evening in Akron. Great column, thanks! –PK

  2. I played football for three years in high school and was lucky enough to survive with nothing more serious than a broken nose; however these many years later I still remember the extent of the violence, even at that low level. I was a 145 pound cornerback and have a vivid recollection of what it felt like to hit a 215 pound fullback head-on in the open field. Unfortunately, the people of this country are addicted to violence and are willing to pay big bucks to watch it. As long as that is the case there will be no shortage of gullible young men lining up to provide it. Even at the non-professional levels, they garner respect and adulation, where the alternative would be anonymity and obscurity. That being the case, it’s no different than the drug trade–as long as there is a demand, and money is involved, there will be a continuing supply.

    Charley Hester

  3. Hi Peter,
    Your boxing attendance at the Cobb fight brings back memories of the Larry Holmes Cassius Clay fight. Holmes was administering a brutal beating to Clay who was practically defenseless when Holmes backed away and looked at the referee as if to say won’t you stop this. but the ref did nothing and Holmes resumed pummeling him.
    To this day I believe the current vegatative staus of Clay came more from that fight than Alzheimers or Dementia.
    I’m sure you saw that fight. What are your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.