Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 5/3/12

One of the big concerns I had yesterday as football fans everywhere mourned the death of Junior Seau was that it was immediately going to fuel the concussion storyline that has been building. The concussion storyline is an important one that has been on the back burner or ignored for too long. Players have been acting like gladiators, needlessly risking their health for the adulation of fans and profit of owners and coaches. It is a systemic problem in which every NFL stakeholder is involved. Coaches have historically preached toughness and playing through pain. Players have looked down on their peers for not doing so. NFL fans (probably this one included) have mocked players like Jay Cutler or LaDainian Tomlinson most recently, for not playing in big games due to injury. As someone who cares about the issue, the immediate speculation and conclusions being drawn around Junior Seau’s death were a concern to me. I know I can’t control the storyline, but I just didn’t think it would help anyone if this issue had a sudden face and potentially a self-created martyr.

What’s so bad about having a martyr if it leads to overwhelming good for everyone via awareness? This is where it gets tricky. As of yesterday, nobody really knew why Junior Seau committed suicide. In fact, as the investigation was presumed to be a suicide, even that wasn’t 100% conclusive. Yet all over the place, I saw people talking about how scary the concussion situation is and how fans might fear for the next generation of retired players because of Seau’s death. I just want to slow the entire thing down so we have a little bit of time to gain perspective not just on the concussion issue, but also suicide.

Another area where suicide has been a big topic recently is with the anti-bullying movement. Suicides are spouted off as statistics to describe the horrors of bullying. It seems to be perfectly logical, but it is just a little bit too convenient for me how they are so neatly and tragically tied together. On the one hand, I think most of us have been bullied in our lifetimes. It is horrible and nobody should have to endure it. At the same time, even in the cases of excessive bullying to rattle off suicide statistics is almost co-signing that suicide is a common and potentially even acceptable outcome to bullying. In a weird way it seemed like Junior Seau’s suicide was being justified as a logical, acceptable outcome to the horrors of post-concussion health issues even before we had an idea why Seau might have taken his own life.

I will never be one to use a blanket statement about suicide that it is cowardly. I know some people say that, but I don’t like to paint myself into a corner with many blanket statements. I would be lying if I said that sometimes suicide does seem logical and rational to me in certain situations. That being said, it concerns me to think that suicide might become the reflexively acceptable outcome to the resulting head injuries that go along with some former NFL players’ experiences in the league.

That was certainly the message from Dave Duerson, the 50-year-old former NFL safety who shot himself in the chest in February of 2011. Duerson left explicit instructions for his brain to be studied at Boston University School of Medecine. Even after the school confirmed that Duerson – at age 50 – had suffered neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions, it doesn’t necessarily justify Duerson’s suicide. I won’t pretend to know exactly what Duerson’s life was like on a daily basis. I won’t call him a coward for taking his own life. I also won’t call suicide the logical choice for people in his situation who are suffering. The air of that yesterday with Seau was troubling.

Seau’s apparent suicide is eerily similar to Duerson’s. I am not dense or stubborn enough to not notice the clear similarities. I just refuse to accept that this is a reasonable pattern. The key word here is “reasonable.” I refuse to think that even those who are suffering have such a limited range of options for how to handle their situation. And this is just in case Seau was aiming to do what Duerson did. We have no idea and may never know for sure.

That’s why speculation was so pre-mature and dangerous. To put suicide on the table as a reasonable solution for those who struggle with diseases or bullies or anything else for that matter, is a scary proposition. Not that it is exactly the same thing, but would the world be a better place if someone like Michael J. Fox took his own life as the quality dissipates a bit more each day? Even that isn’t a perfectly apt example, but like Michael J. Fox, I refuse to believe that the world is necessarily and conclusively better off with Junior Seau dead.

That seemed to be the conclusion of many with a concussion storyline agenda yesterday. To them it seemed that Seau was just another predictable event in a timeline that proves a point. It feels mostly like leftover hatred for owners and Roger Goodell from the lockout, but that’s another story for another day.

That’s why it is such a fine line to walk. That’s why I didn’t want to get into any of this too soon. We don’t know why Junior Seau apparently killed himself yesterday. We don’t know if it is related to concussions he most likely suffered as an NFL player. What we do know is that he was desperate enough to shoot himself in the chest. That’s enough to reflect on for now.

I know we live in a fast-paced world where we want to slot everything into its most comfortable place in the narrative, but sometimes we do it too quickly. We create the truth rather than allowing it to reveal itself. We deserve better. Junior Seau deserves better.

(Image Author JJ Hall)

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