-I think you can’t feel anything but sadness about Junior Seau. The news was shocking. You’re taken aback. And it raises a lot of questions.
-We may never know why Seau did what he did. It is impossible to know what was going through his head. But, this illuminating piece from Trevor Pryce could provide some insight:
The N.F.L. isn’t a street gang. We’re mercenaries willing to work for the highest bidder and willing to get along with whomever we need to in order to keep working. I know why I haven’t heard from any of my former teammates. But it’s not as if I’m looking for them, either. What would we talk about? What do we have in common now? Not much. Once you’re out of the circle, you’re out. So besides my family and a couple of my high school buddies, I don’t have many friends.With millions of Americans out of work or doing work for which they are overqualified, I consider myself lucky. But starting from scratch can be unsettling. If you’re not prepared for it, retirement can become a form of self-imposed exile from the fulfillment and the exhilaration of knowing you did a good job.Many people retire around 65. I will turn 37 this summer, yet like all former N.F.L. players, I face greater health risks, both physical and psychological, that compound my fears.
The last sentence is particularly prescient. And you can’t play in the NFL without getting hit:
In the 1990s, I did a concussion seminar. They said a Grade 3 concussion meant you were knocked out, and a Grade 1 meant you were seeing stars after a hit, which made me burst out in laughter,” Plummer told the San Jose Mercury News. “As a middle linebacker in the NFL, if you don’t have five of these (Grade 1 effects) each game, you were inactive the next game.
“Junior played for 20 years. That’s five concussions a game, easily. How many in his career then? That’s over 1,500 concussions. I know that’s startling, but I know it’s true. I had over 1,000 in my 15 years. I felt the effects of it. I felt depression going on throughout my divorce. Junior went through it with his divorce.”
I don’t know what Seau was thinking before he pulled the trigger. No one can. But we do know that this game has some effect. Dave Duerson is a prime example. He had CTE, a degenerative brain disease that happens after repeated blows to the head. Between the hits and the difficulty of being forced to retire decades before you’re ready, and not being able to assimilate to “normal” life after a life of football, it is clear that something needs to be done. I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile loving a game that can prove deadly.
I love a game that can alter lives, that can cause damage beyond comprehension. NFL players might form an elite group, but it is clear they have post career trauma. They do not know what to do with themselves, and their bodies aren’t helping. How do we reconcile our love for the game, with real progress in helping retired players? How do we ensure that the game we love isn’t killing people? What can we do?
BU is doing tremendous work studying CTE, and the fact that Seau’s family is donating his brain for research is a significant step. But how do we let guys like Pryce live the way do they do? How do we let guys like Seau reach that point? What can we do?
The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know how to elongate careers. I think that perhaps improving the quality of helmets is a start. But, I’m not an expert on that, and I don’t know what goes into that. I think you can change the game to try to dissuade big hits that we love. I think it’s impossible to look at the Kevin Everett story, the Eric LeGrand story and not think twice about those big hits. Yes, Everett and LeGrand are inspirational figures and their recoveries are nothing short of remarkable. But that shouldn’t happen in the first place. As Pryce said,
We’re mercenaries willing to work for the highest bidder and willing to get along with whomever we need to in order to keep working.
And if that doesn’t sum up the NFL, I don’t know what does. We just finished the draft process. We like guys that hit hard, that finish defenders, that play the game with bad intentions. And yet, look where we are now.
I think that, if you’re reading this post, you’re sensing that I’m straddling the line here. I love big hits. I love guys that play hard, play the right way, look to finish. And yet, I can’t help but wonder. Is there something wrong with me for being obsessed with this sport? This is someone who reads PDFs of old playbooks, who stays up late thinking about how to better improve pass rushes, who knows where pretty much every player went to college. I’m a football nerd. I’m the editor for a popular football blog, and yet, this sport, which has given me so much, which has given others so much, is starting to rear its ugly head and beginning to show its ugly effects. Players are bigger, stronger, faster. There are just physical freaks in the NFL. Rare athleticism. Rare striking ability. And this sport, a wonderful sport that fascinates me to no end, is starting to really affect lives. What do we do?
I don”t know. I really don’t. I don’t know to legislate anger, how to pacify aggression. All I know is that we live in a world where one inch is all the difference, and if I’m Ed Reed, I’m making sure you are not crossing that goal line. I’m making sure you’re not crossing that first down line. I’m doing everything I can. Because between those white lines, I hate you. I’m hired to knock your head out. In some cases, like with the Saints (which becomes even more relevant now), I’m paid to do that. So what do we do? Does the NFL punishments for the Saints start to act as a deterrent? Perhaps. But what about someone like Ray Lewis, who, according to Plummer’s logic, has had over 1,000 concussions? What happens then? I don’t know.
I do know that I’m going to hope that something like the Seau incident never happens again. But I fear that I’m being naive. I hope I’m wrong. I hope we never have to hear anything like this again. But, man, I just don’t know.
-I apologize for the dour tone to T and M. But this stuff is important. We have all summer to discuss the 2012 season. The least we can do is pay a little attention to something a little bigger than us.