The tragedy of Junior Seau’s death has sent a ripple effect through the sporting world. The 43-year-old linebacker, who had a Hall of Fame career, was an icon in the league. The 13 time Pro-Bowler was well liked by everyone who knew him. From teammates, to media members, to coaches, he is remembered as a leader in the locker room. He was an enthusiastic man with an infectious personality, and now he has left us.
The exact reasons for his departure are unknown. The gunshot wound was in the chest, which means his body could be available for science. Another exploration into the long term effects of head-to-head contact could reveal some information about the demons that infected Seau’s brain.
Another explanation is that the loss of identity was too much for him. Being great at something your whole life and never being able to do it again would be extremely hard. No longer being able to say, “I’m an NFL Football player,” cannot be easy for a person in a society that worships athletes. While Seau has shown through his charity work that he was nowhere near a selfish person, the question of what else is there haunts all of us from time to time.
The NFL needs to acknowledge the problems that its sport creates. The fantasy world of professional athletes does not mimic the real world, but the people who play the sports are real people. Even if society treats 300-pound linebackers as gods, they still have feelings, emotions, doubts and struggles. For Seau, he was a strong guy; our society tells him he should not have emotional torment. That view is wrong, and this tragedy will only continue as long as it’s not addressed.
The NFL needs to take better care of its players. Even after they step off the field, their actions and decisions affect the multi-billion dollar league. While owners and the commissioner count their cash the players are risking their quality of life for them. Just like the military, they should be repaid for the rest of their lives.
The NFL has started to recognize issues involving mental health. Receiver Brandon Marshall has spoken openly about his struggles, but that is not enough. The NFL should be partnering with mental health and head trauma agencies across the country. They should have their players volunteer with the organizations and promote the causes on television. The NFL needs to prepare players for retirement before their careers end by pushing financial planning. After their careers they should tie retirement benefits into mental health examinations a few times a year.
Players have to know that there are other options. They need to be prepared for the rest of their lives. If the NFL refuses to deal with this issue, things will only get worse. We are already seeing the effects it’s having on hockey. Turning a blind eye could be a death blow to the livelihood of the NFL down the road.