Junior Seau’s Death Renews NFL Brain Injury Debates

It is no mystery that Pro Football can be a very dangerous game to play.  There have been studies and debates about the long term effects of repetitive concussions sustained during football games.  The NFL is now facing a class action lawsuit brought against them by more than 1,500 NFL players claiming the league concealed critical information about long-term effects of concussions over the past few decades.  The recent suicide of retired NFL star linebacker Junior Seau has only added fuel to the debate.

Seau’s manner of suicide is drawing comparison to another NFL star’s suicide; former Chicago Bears Safety Dave Duerson, who died in February 2011.  Duerson and Seau both shot themselves in the chest.  Unlike Seau, Duerson left a suicide note explaining that he wanted his brain sent to the “NFL brain bank” for further study.  Although Seau’s family doesn’t believe his suicide was related to concussions, they have decided to donate his brain for research as well.

Duerson’s family claims that the league didn’t do enough to prevent or treat the concussions that severely damaged Duerson’s brain and they’ve filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL.

Another NFL star, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, shot himself in the head on April 19.  Easterling had joined the class action lawsuit against the league.  His wife claims he suffered from depression and dementia from years of taking hard hits.

Researchers at Boston University’s Center for Traumatic Encephalopathy examined the brain of Duerson and found signs of a degenerative brain disease related to repetitive brain injuries. The Boston center has been studying the brains of deceased NFL players to research the possible link between repeated head injuries and brain disorders such as dementia.  They have requested Seau’s brain as part of their study.  Another request comes from Garrett Webster, the administrator and player liaison for the Brain Injury Research Institute, which studies the impact of concussions.

The co-founder of the Brain Injury Research Institute and a forensic pathologist, Bennet Omalu, is credited with identifying chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurological disorder stemming from repeated head trauma, in several deceased NFL players.   Omalu flew to San Diego to participate in Seau’s autopsy.

CTE is said to lead to erratic behavior and is also associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  It is expected to take four to six weeks to determine whether Seau suffered from CTE.

Family members and friends have said they weren’t aware of any issues that may have led to Seau’s suicide.   However a neighbor of Seau’s, former Major League Soccer player Taylor Twellman, said they had a conversation about headaches they were both experiencing.  Twellman told Seau that the cause of his headaches was from a concussion he had suffered playing soccer.   Seau then admitted to Twellman that he too suffered from headaches from multiple concussions playing football.

Seau’s family made the decision to donate his brain to research in order “to help other individuals down the road.”  Hopefully the family will also get some much needed answers that may help them with their loss.

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