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Commentary: Seau’s death shows real danger in NFL bounty programs

Courtesy of MCT

The NFL made big news Wednesday when it levied suspensions against four players who were involved in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program which rewarded players for big hits that injured opponents. As big as that news was, no one could have been prepared for the even bigger NFL news that came hours later, when former NFL linebacker Junior Seau, 43, was found dead from a gunshot wound to the chest at his home.
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 NFL season. Green Bay Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, who played for the Saints in 2009 and 2010, was suspended eight games. Saints defensive end Will Smith, an OSU alumnus who played for the Buckeyes from 2000-2003, was suspended four games. Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, who played for the Saints from 2006-2009, received a three-game suspension.
Many current and former players, along with NFL fans, have been outspoken against the severity of the suspensions. Football is a game known for its hard hits, and some feel that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is making the game “soft” in his attempts to reduce hits with violent nature. I disagree with these complaints.
While the penalties are harsh, Goodell is right in taking strong action against players who hit other players illegally on the field, and especially in taking action against those involved in setting up reward systems for players who are doing so in an effort to injure opposing players.
The short-term effects of these actions are that the game might lose an aspect of its excitement for those who love to see bone-crushing hits. The long-term effects of the game’s violent tackling, however, are what should be the primary concern. Seau’s death might very well turn out to be another representation of how severe these effects can be.
Seau’s death is being investigated as an apparent suicide, according to multiple reports. In numerous recent cases of former NFL players committing suicide, they have been found to have a degenerative brain condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which can cause players to suffer severe effects including memory loss, impaired judgment, depression and aggression.
This was not the first instance of bizarre behavior from Seau. In October 2010, Seau drove his car off of a 100-foot cliff in what might have been a suicide attempt, hours after an arrest for domestic violence. While there is no evidence yet of Seau having any brain condition, this bizarre series of events certainly lends itself to the pattern of potentially having another player inflicted with CTE.
Seau’s death bears some similarities to other cases of former NFL player suicides, including that of former Chicago Bears football player Dave Duerson who shot himself in the chest in February 2011. Duerson left a request for relatives that he wanted his brain donated to the NFL brain bank for research where it was later discovered that Duerson suffered from CTE.
Seau was known as an excellent player on the field, and an equally excellent person off the field. He played for at least part of 20 NFL seasons, and was a 12-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro as one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Off the field, Seau was a well-known philanthropist who founded the Junior Seau Foundation.
It is truly a tragedy that Seau decided to end his life at the young age of 43 years, without any rational explanation as to what might have driven him to take his own life. This should, however, be yet another wake-up call to not only the NFL, but its players and fans who denounce the league to taking a hard stance against violent hits. NFL players and fans need to be able to understand the long-term effects of the game that is being played, rather than crying out about players being fined and suspended for hits that could ruin another player’s career and life.

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