Junior Seau Suffered From Brain Injuries Due To Repeated Blows To The Head

Former NFL star Junior Seau, who took his own life last May, has become the latest example of the NFL’s concussion problem: 

A team of scientists who analyzed the brain tissue of renowned NFL linebacker Junior Seau after his suicide last year have concluded the football player suffered a debilitating brain disease likely caused by two decades worth of hits to the head, researchers and his family exclusively told ABC News and ESPN.

In May, Seau, 43 — football’s monster in the middle, a perennial all-star and defensive icon in the 1990s whose passionate hits made him a dominant figure in the NFL — shot himself in the chest at his home in Oceanside, Calif., leaving behind four children and many unanswered questions.

Seau’s family donated his brain to neuroscientists at the National Institutes for Health who are conducting ongoing research on traumatic brain injury and football players.

A team of independent researchers who did not know they were studying Seau’s brain all concluded he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease typically caused by multiple hits to the head.

“What was found in Junior Seau’s brain was cellular changes consistent with CTE,” said Dr. Russell Lonser, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Ohio State University, who led the study of Seau’s brain while he was at NIH.

A team of independent researchers who did not know they were studying Seau’s brain all concluded he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease typically caused by multiple hits to the head.

“What was found in Junior Seau’s brain was cellular changes consistent with CTE,” said Dr. Russell Lonser, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at Ohio State University, who led the study of Seau’s brain while he was at NIH.

(…)

More than 30 NFL players have in recent years been diagnosed with CTE, a condition once known as “punch drunk” because it affected boxers who had taken multiple blows to the head. Last year, 4,000 retired players joined a class-action lawsuit against the league over its alleged failure to protect players from brain injuries.

The NFL has said it did not intentionally hide the dangers of concussions from players and is doing everything it can now to protect them.

Gina Seau said she and her ex-husband expected physical injuries from playing professional football but never thought “you’re putting your brain and your mental health at a greater risk.”

Junior Seau, she said, was never formally diagnosed with a concussion but routinely complained of symptoms associated with concussions after receiving hits to the head during games and in practices in 20 seasons in the NFL.

“The head-to-head contact, the collisions are just, they’re out of control,” Gina Seau said.

“He was a warrior and he loved the game,” she added. “But … I know that he didn’t love the end of his life.”

This is just the latest example of a problem that the NFL, and football organizations below it all the way down to the Pop Warner level, only now seem to be paying attention to. In the end, there’s no way to remove all threat of physical danger from the game without changing it so fundamentally that it would be a pale comparison of what it is today, but it seems rather obvious that greater attention needs to be paid to the dangers that players, especially younger players, are exposed to on a near daily basis.

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FILED UNDER: Health, Quick Takes, Sports
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    We should go back to the old leather helmets – the game would become much more technical and interesting, and players would no longer lead blocks with their heads.

  2. JKB says:

    But even if it saves only one child, shouldn’t we pass reasonable football control laws? Ban high-capacity helmets and pads? Require tackle buttons that must be pushed prior to physical contact to warn those being hit?

    I did not play much football but an older cousin, who was big-time in high school and until his grades ended college, has remarked now, at 65, suffering for his past sins, that if he had known he wouldn’t make the NFL, he never would have played football. His younger brother, my contemporary, had to have a football injury initiated knee replacement at 40.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    It seems to me that JKB played a lot of football…without a helmet.
    Just sayin’

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Public opinion won’t force a change but the lawsuits will.

  5. mattb says:

    If people want to continue to play football, it would most likely be far better to return to the older, leather equipment. Part of the issue is that modern sports equipment allows people to hit harder and sustain far more continuous low level damage. This, btw, is one of the reasons that MMA is arguably safer than boxing.

    And, I think there is a lot of evidence to support actually putting age limits on Pop Warner football. Or better yet, maybe it’s time for the US to get on the rugby wagon.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB: But even if it saves only one child’s IQ, shouldn’t we pass reasonable football JKB control laws?

  7. Brett says:

    One thing they are finally doing, at the college level and Pop Warner, is cutting back on the amount of contact in pads during practices. A lot of the CTE damage comes from that over time.

    I’m glad, too. I remember back when I played Little League Football, there was just no consciousness about this at all. We’d do routines like “Sharks and Minnows”, which inevitably left some people dazed after taking a full hit in pads from someone running at full speed.

  8. Just Me says:

    Concussion in sports has long been a problem that went ignored or at least the seriousness of the injury downplayed. A player may be able to play through a twisted ankle, but athletes shouldn’t be playing through concussions.

    Football and hockey both have concussion problems-at all levels of the game. I don’t think you can totally concussion proof games with contact involved, but leagues can take steps to minimize the number and set up protocols for athletes diagnosed with them.

  9. Rob in CT says:

    My Brit father has been railing against the helmets and body armo(u)r in US football for as long as I can remember. I do tend to think he’s basically right. Switching back to the old school padding won’t solve everything, of course. I think it would help, though. That, plus rules, plus a change in the culture of “are you hurt or are you injured” and that crapola.

    I’m not a football fan, but I am a baseball fan. And MLB has been coming around on the concussion thing. They changed the disabled list rules recently to allow for concussion-like-symptoms DL stints, and there has been work done on better helmets (the first helmet committed the Cardinal sin of Looking Funny and was derided by most of the players, yay). And that’s a largely non-contact sport. Largely. Jorge Posada, former NYY catcher, took too many hits to the head over the years. The last year he played, the Yankees basically told him he couldn’t catch anymore after they did a scan of his brain (the scan apparently revealed lots of damage).

  10. mattb says:

    @Just Me:

    Football and hockey both have concussion problems-at all levels of the game.

    And, to my earlier point, both are great examples of cases where a desire for “big hits” has led to amazing advances in body armor, which ultimately end up being more about allowing sustained hits rather than protecting the player.

    Again to take it back to boxing, most people think that the glove is there to protect the person being hit. Nope. It’s to protect the hands (enabling them to hit harder without sustaining damage) and extend the length of matches.

  11. john personna says:

    @JKB:

    Up vote because of course we should regulate football, especially in public schools and state universities.

    There is no excuse for “the state” turning out graduates injured for life.

  12. john personna says:

    (As an aside, I just thought Seau was an ass, and for that I’m sorry.)

  13. C. Clavin says:

    I have to say in all seriousness…I am a huge NFL fan…I actually worked on the staff of a team at one point…but the whole injury thing troubles me. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile.
    And it’s not just head injuries. Have you seen Earl Campbell try to walk?
    There is a story that Merrill Hodge couldn’t leave his house for a while because he was afraid he couldn’t find his way home again.
    Ray Lewis has over 1500 solo tackles in his career. What’s his life going to be like in 20 years when he is my age? Well…he’ll probably have more money anyway.

  14. legion says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Public opinion won’t force a change but the lawsuits will.

    Sadly, I don’t believe it will. The penalties from the lawsuits won’t come close to impacting the actual money flow of pro football, and it’ll just be lumped into the overhead costs. Pro football cares about as much about keeping the players from dying as Republicans do about creating jobs.