The San Diego County medical officer ruled Junior Seau’s death a suicide Thursday. Though many questions surrounding his death remain, Seau’s gunshot wound to the chest bears ominous similarity to that of former Bears safety Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest in 2011 so that his brain might be preserved for scientific study.
As if the drug addiction, dementia, mental illness and violent behavioral changes common to people suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy weren’t enough, Seau’s and Duerson’s decisions add another layer of horror to the reality of former football players. They don’t just suffer through CTE’s degeneration – they’re completely aware of it as it happens.
It seems NFL players know full well that something’s gone wrong, and that they can’t do anything about it. No person deserves that fate.
It’s only a matter of time before scientists conclusively link CTE with playing in the NFL. With every new former NFL player’s brain studied, the inevitable lawsuit against the NFL looms a little closer. Lawyers don’t want to blow an opportunity to take a bite out of the NFL’s $9 billion revenue machine, so they’ll hold off the lawsuit until the verdict becomes all-but-guaranteed.
When that day comes, the NFL will change drastically. Diminished salaries, smaller rosters, league-wide contractions – anything’s possible depending on the scope of the verdict.
For the NFL to survive, Roger Goodell needs to take charge of this problem now. The penalties instituted for dirty hits last year were a start, but they need to be ramped up a step further, and they should be cumulative: every helmet-to-helmet hit, every hit on a defenseless receiver or hands to the face needs to be tallied, and each subsequent violation must result in a harsher penalty.
NBA players can only receive 15 technical fouls in a season before they start receiving automatic suspensions. The NFL should institute a similar policy, but the accumulation should cover a player’s career, as is the case with positive steroid tests in baseball. After all, dirty hits are a form of cheating, just like steroids.