It’s Super Bowl week and most all the attention around the NFL — from players to fans to the media — will be on New Orleans.
But in San Diego the shadow of Junior Seau’s suicide last May is again front and center — not in the shadows, but now headed to a courtroom, after his ex-wife Gina Seau, his children and his immediate Polynesian family sued the NFL and the helmet maker Riddell for the causing the injuries that led the iconic linebacking legend to shoot himself in the chest.
The lawsuit cites many of the same reasons for legal action, as do most of the other lawsuits that now involve 3,100 retired or ailing players.
Seau is like Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, Ray Easterling, Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk and so many others — deceased. A life taken by their own hands as they suffered on and on.
All shot themselves. They ended lives fraught with pain and suffering from head injuries, concussions, depression and on-coming dementia.
The Seau lawsuit tells a segment of the story of his deterioration, but it does not answer bigger questions about responsibility.
At the time of his shocking shot-to-the-chest suicide, the family indicated they never saw it coming. Friends, former teammates and family never let on that anything was wrong.
But months later, the lawsuit paints a very different, very dark picture.
The suit says his health began deteriorating at that point — extreme dizziness, headaches, some memory loss. It was followed by sleep insomnia, mood swings, violent emotional outbursts. He was irrational at times, prone to self-destructive acts and became less communicative. There was alcohol abuse, painkiller usage and a gambling addiction.
In the end, Seau’s emotional state spiraled out of control, as did his financial status. His $57 million in earnings was gone. There was an agent who went to prison as a thief, a costly divorce, an extravagant lifestyle, bad business investments, gambling binges and debts at multiple casinos. Bank loans came due.
It was a checklist of tragic events that led to him putting a bullet in his heart in early May, shooting himself rather than going surfing.
Gina Seau says her husband was plagued by major headaches as far back as 1996 when he was a blitzing linebacker wreaking havoc on quarterbacks and ball carriers.
The National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland finished a study of Seau’s brain tissue last month and found damage to three different parts of the brain.
And now the family wants damages from the NFL for selling violence on Sunday, paying players to blow others up and not communicating the dangers of concussions.
The helmet maker has been dragged into the suit too for not doing a better job with equipment. They accuse the NFL of marketing big hits with its popular videos, preaching violence and hard hitting while selling tickets and making money.
Seau might be viewed much like all the others who have died in the last two years around the NFL, but there is an exception.
The family now admits they saw all these signs of decay as far back as 1996.
Not one family member took action to get him help? He played 13 years more.
What bothers me is that he was allowed to ply his trade from San Diego to Miami to New England up until 2009.
Seau was never once reported to have an NFL concussion or placed on the weekly injury reports with head trauma.
Reports are that the linebacker went outside the circle of doctors on the team to get his own treatments, without the club’s knowledge.
And Seau himself is quoted in an NFL Films video as saying, “I don’t view it as a big hit, unless I get dizzy. Think what the other guy feels.”
It’s sad to think of the guy wearing #55, his signature lightning bolt fist pump after a sack, as dead and gone. It’s sadder thinking his family, admitting they knew of all these issues, did nothing to get him help or get him to stop playing.
Those opposed to the lawsuits say the players assume the risks — that they know the violence of the sport can lead to major injuries, but that is the tradeoff for big paydays and big game status.
Play today, earn lots for tomorrow and who cares what happens when the career is over.
I wonder if the Seau family, or his close inner circle of friends, feels guilty now? Were they a loving family or nothing more but enablers?
It should have been about the player, but I have a sick feeling, it was about his money.
Seau’s lawsuit may not have a leg to stand on, because of what the family knew, when they knew it and how little they did about it.
It may be a failed action because he went to doctors on his own, violating his contract and being less than honest with team physicians.
Super Bowl Sunday will be in the spotlight. But, the Seau tragedy still casts a big shadow, at least in San Diego and in Oceanside.
Kicking dirt on the grave? No, but digging for the honest truth and the reality that will come from all this.
The hurt of Seau playing when injured is part of the story of his career. The ache from his death goes on and on.