Retired NFL star Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide in May, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.
ABC News/ESPN reported Thursday that Seau’s family was recently told of the findings, which determined the brain of the All-Pro linebacker showed abnormalities associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Seau died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest in his beachfront home in Oceanside. His family agreed to have his brain studied, to determine whether there could possibly be a link between the hits to the head he absorbed as a football player and his suicide.
More than 2,000 former NFL players are suing the NFL over the long-term effects of concussions.
In a written statement Thursday, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said: “The [Seau] finding underscores the recognized need for additional research to accelerate a fuller understanding of CTE. The NFL, both directly and in partnership with the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and other leading organizations, is committed to supporting a wide range of independent medical and scientific research that will both address CTE and promote the long-term health and safety of athletes at all levels.
“The NFL clubs have already committed a $30-million research grant to the NIH, and we look forward to making decisions soon with the NFL Players Assn. on the investment of $100 million for medical research that is committed in the collective bargaining agreement.
“We have work to do, and we’re doing it.”
After Seau’s death, many saw similarities between his suicide and that of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who likewise died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest in 2011. In a suicide note, Duerson had asked his family to donate his brain to the Boston University School of Medicine.
Researchers from that school later determined that Duerson suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions, and that played a role in triggering his depression.
“All football players have had” concussions, Seau’s ex-wife, Gina, told The Times last May. “And Junior was no different.”
Former NFL linebacker Gary Plummer, a teammate of Seau in San Diego, said any linebacker who doesn’t see stars at least five times per game simply isn’t doing his job. Again, it’s something players typically don’t discuss for fear they will be replaced.
“Your entire life, that is probably your most revered characteristic as a player – your toughness, your ability to handle pain, your ability to overcome adversity,” Plummer told The Times soon after Seau’s suicide. “And you take that to a mental level as well. You’ve got to be mentally tough, you’ve got to overcome. Just block out this pain. It’s taught from coaches from the time you’re in Pop Warner. I’ve done it myself as a coach, coaching my kids through high school.
“Junior was obviously very good at it. He’d play through ridiculous pain that some people wouldn’t even get out of bed with to go to an office job. Sometimes you play a game with those.”
Concussions are under-reported in football, said Dr. David A. Hovda, director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center.
“Athletes are like military personnel in that they don’t tell the truth,” Hovda said in May. “They want to go back to play, or they want to go back and be with their unit, so they’re less likely to be straightforward with a physician or trainer or coach.”