Former Chargers All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau, who played 20 NFL seasons and was voted to the Pro Bowl a dozen times, was found dead Wednesday morning of a single gunshot wound at his Oceanside, Calif., home. Police said the case is being investigated as a suicide.
He was 43.
Seau, the fifth overall choice of the 1990 NFL draft, played 13 seasons for San Diego and also played for the Dolphins and Patriots. Police said Seau shot himself in the chest and did not appear to leave a note. He was discovered by his girlfriend in a bedroom of his beachfront home.
"Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now," the Chargers said in a statement. "We ask everyone to stop what they're doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family."
Police Chief Frank McCoy said Seau's girlfriend reported finding him unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest. Attempts to revive Seau were unsuccessful, McCoy said.
Seau's mother wept hysterically outside the former player's home. "I don't understand. I'm shocked," Luisa Seau said. She said Seau offered no hints of a problem when they spoke earlier this week by telephone.
"He's joking to me," she said. "He called me a 'homegirl.' "
The Patriots, for whom Seau played from 2006-09, said in a statement they were "deeply saddened by the news of his death. We were fortunate to have had Junior join the Patriots in 2006 and are thankful for his many contributions to the team over the next four years. He had a legendary NFL career and his unrivaled passion for the game quickly made him a fan favorite here in New England. This is a sad day for the entire Patriots organization, our coaches and his many Patriots teammates."
Seau is the fourth former NFL player to commit suicide in recent years. The others are Bears safety Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest in 2011 and donated his brain for research, Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long and Eagles safety Andre Waters. Tests conducted on Duerson, Long and Waters indicated that the players had suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated brain trauma.
The NFL has recently enacted rules changes and changed medical protocol in the treatment of concussions to prevent their frequency and severity. More than 1,000 former NFL players are suing the league, charging that the NFL intentionally misrepresented and concealed evidence about the effects of concussions and failed to warn players that they risked permanent damage if they returned to action too soon after suffering concussions.
The league has denied the charges.
One of Seau's close friends, U.S. surfing champion and surf board designer Donald Takayama, told USA Today in an interview Wednesday that Seau and he had planned a surfing trip to Hawaii next week. Takayama said he was shocked about reports of Seau's suicide, and that he did not appear to be depressed when the two spoke.
"Junior is not that type of person who would do something like this," Takayama said. "I don't have a clue why he . . . what happened. He seemed really happy. I don't know why or what or how this came about. Something like this, I just don't understand it."
Takayama said Seau "never complained about concussions. I never saw Junior depressed," he said.
Seau was involved in an unusual car accident in October 2010, in which he drove his SUV off an embankment in Carlsbad, Calif., and landed on a beach. Seau was treated at a nearby hospital for minor injuries and was released. He had told investigators that he had been up all night and fell asleep at the wheel. Several hours before the accident, Seau was arrested after police were called to his home to investigate a report of domestic violence. He was arrested and briefly jailed on suspicion of assaulting his live-in girlfriend, but the case was later dropped.
"It is incredibly tragic and sad," the NFL said in a statement about Seau's death. "Our prayers are with Junior's family."