I can’t help feeling anything but sadness about the NFL right now.
The tragic suicide of San Diego Chargers great Junior Seau put in perspective any hand-wringing about the league’s Bountygate penalties, which ranged from a three-game suspension for Browns linebacker Scott Fujita to a full season for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
Linking Seau’s death to possible head trauma from the 20 seasons he spent as an NFL linebacker (12 of those culminating in a Pro Bowl selection) is mere speculation at this point. But I can’t help but wonder if Seau’s 2010 accident, when he drove his SUV off a 30-foot cliff in Carlsbad, Calif., was a cry for help. Hours earlier he’d been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence against his 25-year-old girlfriend. Charges were not filed. He said he’d fallen asleep at the wheel. Retiring after the 2009 season, he could have been struggling with depression.
In video aired live on TMZ.com, Seau’s mother wept uncontrollably in front of television cameras, even while thanking the public for the love for her son. But she spoke about finding who was responsible for his death, unable to accept it had been by his own hand. His family may now face the decision of whether to allow his brain to be studied to help assess the long-term effects of football.
If Seau is found to be suffering from brain trauma, it will show how necessary it is for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to put an end to any kind of bounties. It seems like he suspects other teams had similar systems, albeit less organized. “Who’s the rat?” tweets from current and former players when the scandal was exposed and the uproar over Warren Sapp’s supposed outing of the whistle-blower gives hint there had to be more.
While players fear Goodell wants to turn the game into flag football, they still seem oblivious to what violence can do to their bodies. Goodell needs to put an end to the “SportsCenter Top 10 plays’ culture, even if it is really lawsuits he fears. The NFL helped feed the beast with its sale of "Big Hits: videos, which looks so misguided now.
Football is dangerous enough without a $10,000 carrot for knocking a quarterback out of a game. We know that even before Seau's autopsy.