Friday, May 4, 2012

J-Speaks: The Unexpected Passing of An NFL Legend

He was hailed as one of the finest football players at his position. Too many this player was the heart beat of both the National Football League (NFL) franchise he played 13 of his 20 years for. A pillar of the community that he played for. An inspiration to his teammates and other players past and present. A shoe in as a first ballot Hall of Famer. On Wednesday however this great competitor on the field and great person off of it left us unexpectedly.

On Wednesday, former NFL great linebacker Tiaina Baul “Junior” Seau, Jr. passed away at the age of 43. He was found dead by his girlfriend at his Oceanside, CA.

A 911 call was made to the Oceanside police at 10 a.m. West Coast time and it is believed that a housekeeper found Seau with a gunshot wound to his chest.

Oceanside Police Chief Frank McCoy said that the housekeeper indicated that she returned to the residence to find Mr. Seau unconscious suffering from the aforementioned gunshot wound to the chest, that according to reports was self-inflicted.

Police have been at the scene since responding to the 911 call and the number of people who have come to the scene has grown since Wednesday.

According to Oceanside Police Chief Frank McCoy Seau’s death is being investigated as a suicide, even though a suicide note was never found, but Seau’s ex-wife Gina, according to a report from the Associated Press said she received a text message saying simply, “I love you,” to her and their daughter and two sons.

Seau is survived by his aforementioned ex-wife who he married in 1991 and divorced in 2002 and their three kids. He is also survived by his father Tiaina Seau, Sr. and his mother Luisa who showed all of her emotion of the loss of her son to reporters on Wednesday.

“Thank you, I appreciate everybody’s over here show your love to my son,” Mrs. Seau said as she cried tears of unquestionable pain about the death of her son.

I don’t understand who do this to my son, but I pray to God, ‘Please take me. Take me, leave my son alone, but its too late.”

On the field, Seau was a fierce competitor who had a high motor that made him had an impact each and every game he was on the field.

In his 20-year NFL career in which he played with the San Diego Chargers for 13 of those years, which followed three years with the Miami Dolphins and his last four with the New England Patriots he recorded 1,849 tackles, had 56.5 sacks, 18 interceptions, three forced fumbles and 21 pass deflections.

He was voted to 12 consecutive Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pro teams. He played in two Super Bowls; Super Bowl XXIX in which they lost 49-26 to the San Francisco 49ers and in XLII to the New York Giants 17-14. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992; Named NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year in 2003; Selected to the 1990s NFL All-Decade Team. On Nov. 27, 2011 in a game versus the Chargers’ American Football Conference (AFC) West Division rival the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium, Seau was inducted into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame being introduced by former fellow Charger and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts before a crowd of close to 71,000 people. Two years earlier, Seau received another great honor by the Chargers organization when the team selected him and 52 other players and coaches as a part of their 50th Anniversary team.

Over the past two days since Seau’s passing many of his former teammates, many in the Chargers organization as well as many current players, coaches and many others associated with the NFL have come out and shared their feelings about what Junior Seau meant to them.

“Clearly he was the heart and soul of our franchise for 12, 13 years he played here,” Chargers President Dean Spanos said on Wednesday.”

“I heard somebody say no coach had to give any inspirational speeches because he clearly was the leader in that locker room.”

“Junior wanted to make sure when you saw him, he was at full strength,” former Charger teammate and current ESPN NFL analyst Marcellus Wiley said Wednesday.

“You didn’t want to see him in his weakest moments, but now I translate that to his personal life and I’m like, ‘We were there for you man. We knew you were a superstar. We knew you were a super person , but come out and tell us you needed us.’ ”

Via Twitter, New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said he watched Seau as a kid and that “he represented a lot of great things.

Wide receiver Victor Cruz of the cross town rival Giants said, “Not Junior Seau! He was my idol growing up. True professional and role model to all.”

“No one had more passion for the game of football than Junior Seau,” Denver Broncos new quarterback Peyton Manning said.

“I was honored to call Junior a friend and I was deeply saddened by the news of his passing.”

ESPN’s Michael Smith said, “It’s terrible that I got to talk about part of my childhood as an NFL fan in this way. It’s really a tough day in the sports world cause a guy I grew up watching and everybody grew up enjoying watch play Junior Seau. The future Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chargers, the Dolphins and Patriots. We all know from the Chargers found dead in his home of an apparent gunshot wound. Just tragic for whatever the reasons are. Our hearts and sympathy go out to his three children, his ex-wife, all of his millions of fans everywhere, especially in the San Diego community. The teammates he leaves behind. Didn’t live long enough to see himself inducted into the Hall of Fame. Just sad.”

There are many asking how can this happen. How can someone who had everything going for them end it all just like that. Were their any signs.

One sign might be that two years ago, just a year after retiring from pro football, he was involved in a suspicious car accident in which he drove off a cliff and survived a 100-foot fall. He later said that the accident happened because he fell asleep at the wheel. It was reported that this incident happened after a domestic violence incident in his home.

What also makes the passing of Seau so unthinkable is that he became the eighth player from the 1994 Charger team that went to Super Bowl XXIX to pass away way too soon.

On Feb. 26, 2011 former Chargers defensive tackle Shawn Lee died from cardiac arrest brought on by double pneumonia at age 44. On Dec. 8, 2011 former Chargers outside linebacker Lewis Bush died of a heart attack at age 42. An enlarged heart is what claimed the life of former Chargers’ defensive end Chris Mims who was 38 years old at the time. Former center Curtis Whitley passed away on May 11, 2008 from a drug overdose in Texas. He was only 39 years of age. Back in 1998, backup linebacker Doug Miller, just 28 years old died after being struck by lighting. On May 11, 1996 backup tailback Rodney Culver died in a plane crash at just age 26 and just five months after the Chargers loss in Super Bowl XXIX starting linebacker David Griggs at just age 28 had his life taken in a car accident.

In the case of Seau’s passing his passing comes on the heels of the suicide of two former NFL players and the links to those comes from the numbers of hits those players have taken while playing in the NFL.

Back on Feb. 11, 2011 former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson passed away from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, which was found when a Miami-Dade County medical examiner reported. In a text message to his family, he wanted his brain to be used for research at the Boston University School of Medicine, which is now conducting research into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (C.T.E.), a disease linked to memory loss, depression and dementia.

Two days ago researcher neurologists at the aforementioned Boston U. confirmed that Duerson, who played in the NFL for 10 seasons for the Bears, Giants and the then Phoenix Cardinals suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.

Last month, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who played for the team from 1972-79 committed suicide. The 62-year-old was suffering from dementia.

Other former players who have passed on due to the effects from their career on the professional gridiron include former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long, who passed away seven years ago from drinking antifreeze and former Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals safety Andre Waters committee suicide on Nov. 20, 2006. According to a report from the Hillsborough County Florida Sheriff’s Office, Waters died from a gunshot to his head. He was found at his home by his then girlfriend. No suicide note was found.

Right now more than 1,500 former players are now suing the league claiming that for years they have been ignoring evidence that shows how repeated blows to the head trigger C.T.E.

According to ABC News consultant Ret. U.S. Army General Peter Chiarell that in some instances that head trauma could be related to depression and depression at times can be a cause of suicide, but that is something that is not definitive.

“There’s some who say that the lag time between the damage that is done goes anywhere from 40 to 60 years,” Gen. Chiarell said on Wednesday.

Studies also show that high school football players are at risk for the effects of C.T.E. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, two million brain injuries occur per year among teens playing football.

While Junior Seau really never showed any signs of having a concussion while he played in the NFL or even after former NFL offensive tackle Kyle Turley who knew Seau speculates that he may have paid a price for being a football great.

“He played hard, tough and there’s no doubt that the toile his brain took at the position he played it will most undoubtedly show that this is a factor,” Turley said.

Seau ex-wife Gina told the Associated Press that she didn’t know the effects from concussions contributed to her ex-husband’s death.

“We have no clues whatsoever. We’re as stunned and shocked as anyone else,” she said.

“We’re horribly saddened. We miss him and we’ll always love him.”

On top of that Seau’s neighbor Taylor Twellman revealed something from a conversation they had in 2008 that gave some very important incite.

Twellman told Seau that back in the aforementioned 2008 he suffered a serious concussion playing soccer when he was punched in the head by the opposing team’s goal keeper. When he met up with Seau four weeks later after the incident he mentioned that he had a real bad headache and that Seau tried to make him feel better by laughing about it and that he told him that he had so many concussions that he could not tell how many.

“ I didn’t put two and two together at the time, but when I heard the reports in 2010, I did my best two or three times to reach out because what I know about head injuries. What I know about concussions. Why I started a foundation,” Twellman said.

“He needed help, he just didn’t know how to get it.”

While it might have been too late to the life of Seau and those that passed on before him and after him, the NFL has taken a proactive approach to make the game safer.

It is why you have seen players in the last couple of years be fined a great deal for excessive hits on the field and even suspended.

The greatest example of that is what Commissioner Roger Goodell did to the New Orleans Saints suspending head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season and his former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely for their roles in the bounty scandal. Saints assistant coach Joe Vitt, the interim head coach for the 2012 season with the Saints will be suspended for the first six games of the upcoming season and General Manager Mickey Loomis received a suspension for the end of the 2012 preseason and the first eight games of 2012.

The NFL also suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season. Saints defensive end Will Smith got a four-game suspension and former Saints’ linebacker, now with the Cleveland Browns got a three-game suspension and defensive end Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers received an eight-game suspension.

The NFL also fined the Saints $500,000 and stripped the team of this year’s pick in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft and in 2013.

“It was too harsh because this was the perfect thing for Roger Goodell to show everyone how serious he is about cleaning up violence,” Dan Le Batard said on his Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable on Wednesday.

“So the penalty had to be echoing. It’s extreme. It’s unfair… but he’s making a symbolic statement to keep him and his league away from liability because the only thing that derails the NFL, this billion dollar money making machine is a billion dollar lawsuit from limping players walking through a courtroom.”

What also hurts the NFL name is kids who are fans of watching the game not playing because they see what can occur.

Going back to Seau, the NFL family just did not lose a great player, it lost the greatest representation of philanthropy off the field.

In his third season in the NFL Seau created the Junior Seau Foundation with its mission to educate and build confidence in young people through the support of preventing child abuse, drug and alcohol awareness, opportunities to participate in recreational activities, programs in education and efforts to battle juvenile delinquency.

The foundation since 2000 has given out an annual award to individuals that exemplify the mission of the Junior Seau Foundation.

The first 11 people to receive this great award are Sid Brooks (2000), former Charger wideout and Hall of Famer Lance Alworth (2001), former Chargers’ head coach Sid Gillman (2002), former Chargers head coach Don Coryell (2003), Hall of Fame tailback Marcus Allen (2004), Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones (2005), National Champion head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets of 1990 Bobby Ross (2006), Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon (2007) , NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk (2008), Hall of Fame wideout Charlie Joiner (2009), FOX Sports NFL color analyst and Super Bowl champion John Lynch (2010) and NBA champion, Basketball Hall of Famer and NBA color analyst Bill Walton (2011).

“As talented as he was… a sure fire Hall of Famer, he was just as excellent off the field with his foundation activities, that principally benefited children,” said CBS Special Correspondent James Brown.

Brown also said how blessed he was to give Seau a JB Award that he does in conjunction with the NFL Players Association, which is given to players who commit significantly to building stronger communities and stronger families.

Former Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal told ESPN’s Tom Friend on Thursday that at a recent event Seau raised $500,000.

“This guy was a pillar in San Diego…He was doing so many good things,” Neal said.

Patriots CEO and chairman Robert Kraft felt that Seau was also pillar in the Boston community as well.

Kraft called Seau “a true Patriot,” and he remembers one time that he sent him a letter within a few weeks after the passing of his wife Myra on July 20, 2011 from cancer.

The letter said, “I’m so sorry about the passing of Mrs. Kraft. She was an inspiration to me. I’ve so much respect for all she did to help people lead better lives. I will always be there for you and your family. Junior Seau. Love you buddy.”

Kraft said on Thursday that Seau would always say “love you buddy,” to him and in the letter he enclosed a check to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund.

Neal also revealed about how Seau and so many other great players sometimes reach the end of their rope after retiring from the NFL.

“People don’t understand its still 60 minutes. That four hours that your on the field and being around your guys and around that locker room,” Neal said.

“That’s your sanctuary. Once your not in that locker room and you don’t have that, a part of you dies. That was the highlight of your life.”

When someone like Junior Seau’s life ends, in this case way too soon, one of the questions that is asked what is his legacy and how will he be remembered?

James Brown says of Seau, “He was a competitor supreme on the football field. Highly respected, but just as revered off the field.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, “Of all the players I have coached, nobody was more full of energy and vitality than Junior Seau. He respected and inspired every single person he came in contact with-players, coaches and support staff. He’s defied the odds by playing two decades in the NFL at a level and with a youthful spirit rarely seen but appreciated by everyone. Junior will always be remembered as an intense Hall of Fame player from the old school.”

The NFL community lost a great player who competed like no other. The city of San Diego lost a local hero that gave back to those that made their life just a little better on the field and off of it. More than anything a mother and father lost a son. Their four children lost a sibling and a son lost a family.

On Thursday, Seau’s son Tyler, one of his cousins and one of Junior’s best friends did something that his father did almost everyday. They went to the ocean across the street where Tyler’s father lived and they jumped into the cold water without wetsuits and they body surfed and paddle boarded. Earlier in the day the cousins ran on the strand, something that Seau also did everyday.

The family plans to have a memorial service in honor of Junior Seau at his home on Sunday at 12 p.m. West Coast time. They will have what is called a paddle out because Seau was called a water man.

“My brother was a loving brother. A caring citizen” Seau’s sister said on Wednesday.

“So I would appreciate if you guys would just please honor his last day and give us some kind of peace and privacy.”

Information, statistics and quotations are courtesy of 5/2/12 4 p.m. edition of ESPN 2’s Bottom Line Breaking News report during the edition of “Numbers Never Lie” with Charissa Thompson, Michael Smith and Jemele Hill; 5/2/12 4:30 p.m. edition of “Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable” with Dan Le Batard and his father Gonzalo Le Batard; 5/2/12 4 p.m. edition of WABC “Eyewitness News First at 4” with David Navarro and Liz Cho-report from Sandra Bookman; 5/2/12 5 p.m. edition of WABC “Eyewitness News at 5” with Diana William and Sade Baderinwa-report from Jim Dolan; 5/2/12 6:30 p.m. edition of ABC’s “World News” with Diane Sawyer-report from David Wright; 5/2/12 5 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “Around The Horn,” with Toni Reali; 5/3/12 6 a.m. edition of Headline News’ “Morning Express” with Robin Meade-report from sports anchor Carlos Diaz; 5/3/12 7 a.m. edition of “CBS This Morning” with Charlie Rose, Erica Hill and Gayle King-report from John Blackstone and special correspondent James Brown; 5/3/12 6 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter” with Kevin Connors and John Anderson;;;

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