The Death of Junior Seau & Head Injuries: 10 Essential Resources

Junior Seau, football hall-of-famer and former New England Patriot, is dead.  It appears that he committed suicide.  Seau was 43 and had an ex-wife and three children.

This is the latest in a growing line of NFL suicides, and Seau is the sixth member of the 1994 San Diego Chargers team to die from suicide, alcohol or drugs (two other Chargers died in freak accidents).  It is not immediately clear that Seau killed himself because of brain trauma and resulting mental illness, but there are forbiddingly ominous signs of the same (he did suffer many concussions, that much is clear).  Two years ago, Seau survived a 100-foot plunge off a cliff following a fight with his girlfriend.  He said that he fell asleep at the wheel, but one sees a pattern here in relation to previous tragic deaths of NFL players and other athletes (see below).  All this discussion must, of course, be conducted with clear reference to human sinfulness, which is our primary problem.  But our physical actions can aid and abet our sin and fallenness, that much seems clear.

On Twitter, I discussed this issue with some friends and connected this death to the strong possibility of brain injury.  Good questions were raised, and someone asked about hard data that helps to substantiate the connection between football violence and bizarre, even deadly, behavior.  Below are some links that I’ve culled on this subject, one that has personally interested me for three years.

1. The New York Times compendium on brain injuries and sports–The foremost journalistic resource on this entire subject, with dozens of articles (Joe Nocera of the NYT has led the charge, to his credit).  An absolute must-visit, though you may burn through your 10 free articles per month here!

2. Jonah Lehrer’s Grantland essay–Filled with data, scientific discussion of the brain, and why the problem of concussions is bedeviling (it’s not easy to stop the brain from moving around).  Frightening fact: includes mention of the only youth brain studied, that of an 18-year-old player–the brain showed clear evidence of irreversible brain trauma.

3. ESPN reporting on Owen Thomas–A Penn football star who committed suicide and whose brain clearly showed CTE

4. New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell–Famously compared football to dog-fighting.  Included some of the earliest research on collision impacts on football, which liked a UNC practice to a series of “minor car crashes”

5. ESPN coverage of the death of Dave Duerson–Committed suicide and shot himself in the chest, apparently in order to preserve his brain for concussion research (Seau did the same, possibly for similar reasons)

6. Early GQ piece on brain injuries and the courageous doctor studying them–”[He saw] brown and red splotches. All over the place. Large accumulations of tau proteins. Tau was kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning.  This was why Mike Webster was crazy.”

7. First Things essay I did on this subject linking to many articles on this topic

8. Coverage of a pro wrestler who went crazy and killed his wife and son–”Benoit’s brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.”

9. Minnesota Public Radio coverage of the brain injuries of deceased hockey player Derek Boogard

10. Research from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that shows negative brain effects from heading balls in soccer

In listing these resources, I’m not suggesting that Christians can’t play or watch football or other contact-oriented sports, but surely there must be productive things that we can do to address these issues.  That all starts, of course, with information, and though I’m not a doctor nor a researcher, I want to try to help others think well about violence, sports, and the application to every area of the Christian conscience created by the gospel of Jesus Christ.


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