The family of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau is considering donating his brain to further research football-related injuries, following Seau’s recent suicide. It is believed that Seau’s decision to end his life with a gunshot to the chest was, at least partially, due to chronic traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) sustained during 20 seasons playing professional football.
Though Seau’s family originally stated that they were going to donate the former linebacker’s brain to be studied by unidentified outside researchers, they are now reconsidering. They wish to consult with Samoan elders—Seau was of Samoan heritage.
If Seau’s brain ends up donated to perpetuate football research it would not be a unique occurrence. Tragically, brain injuries are common among NFL players, former and current. Repeated concussions can lead to a variety of mental side-effects including memory lapses, dementia and extreme forms of anxiety and depression. It was only little more than a year ago when Dave Duerson, formerly of the Chicago Bears, dictated in his suicide note that his brain be donated to the NFL brain bank. Duerson hoped that his death could ignite a national conversation about the effects of repeated football head injuries. It was eventually found by Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy that Duerson had suffered from mental illness due to degenerative brain damage.
Though Seau left no suicide note, his pastor, Shawn Mitchell, believes that his choice to end his life with a gunshot wound to the chest may have been deliberate.
“Him taking the shot to the chest makes sense that he would want his head examined,” Mitchell said.
Seau’s death also follows the suicide of former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who was the lead plaintiff in a class action suit against the NFL for concussion-related injuries. The lawsuit names over 1,000 NFL athletes.
While head injuries are almost guaranteed each NFL season, due to the game’s extreme physicality, it seems clear that the NFL should be providing players and former players with more TBI rehab. Through proper rehab, those who have suffered from brain injuries can alleviate or minimize many of their symptoms. Players should be tested early and often for signs of brain injuries and provided with TBI treatment when necessary.
If Mr. Seau’s family decides to donate the linebacker’s brain to research, it will hopefully help prevent tragedies like his suicide from occurring down the line.