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Opinion

After Seau's suicide, look hard at football's long-term damage

Junior Seau talks to the media during a

Junior Seau talks to the media during a news conference at the Dolphins training center in Davie, Fla. (April 16, 2003) Credit: AP

The suicide of football great Junior Seau is a tragedy, but it is not an isolated one.

Ray Easterling, a less famous NFL retiree, shot himself to death on April 19. Last year Dave Duerson, another ex-pro, shot himself in the chest, as Seau did. Duerson left a note that said his brain should be used to study football head injuries.

They are being studied, and the findings so far are grim. Alzheimer's disease, depression and other brain disorders are vastly more common in former football players than in the general population. NFL veterans also die younger.

Although the league has finally started to take head trauma more seriously, perhaps as a result of several lawsuits brought by former players, it's time for an urgent focus on this frightening problem.

It's also time for parents of young players to think long and hard before sending them out on the football field. Concussions are common in young football players, and scientists are only beginning to understand the long-term health effects.

Nobody knows what caused Seau to take his own life, or whether he suffered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease of the brain resulting from head trauma, which was diagnosed in Duerson and two other recent NFL veterans who committed suicide.

But there are millions of football players in America, of all ages. It's crucial to know how much risk they are taking when they play -- and what consequences they might face after they stop.

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