I think that there are some who are missing part of the picture when it comes to the death of Junior Seau.
Now, while my sports tree has been trimmed down to pretty much post-season events and video games, Junior Seau was a star in my sports watching prime. One of the best linebackers to ever play the game, he was found dead last week of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
Immediately, the speculation turned to the number of hits he had taken to his head during a 20-year career as the professional football player (not to mention the four years prior to that as a star at USC, the six years before that as a high school player in Oceanside, Calif., or the years of Pop Warner and little league ball).
Several retired players, including former Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner, came out as said that they would consider not allowing their children to play football because of the dangers associated with the sport, and I can’t say that I disagree with them. However, I do not have to make that decision because I live in a soccer school district.
Last year, former Chicago Bears and New York Giants defensive back Dave Duerson also killed himself in like manner to Seau, but left a not saying that he wanted his brain donated to science. Translation, Duerson realized that there was a problem and wanted in solved so others did not have to go through what he did mentally and emotionally.
Former Atlanta Falcons player Ray Easterling also killed himself in the past year, with people again looking at the trauma associated with head injuries as a factor in his mental state.
However, I think that the national media is overlooking one crucial part to the equation, and it is the giant gorilla in the room.
There are only two arenas where you here all-to-often stories of former participants committing suicide or needing emotional help. The first is football. The second is professional wrestling (that’s why I said arena and not sports).
About two professional wrestlers (let’s get it straight, we are talking WWE here, not Olympic-style wrestling or mixed martial arts) yearly take their own lives, with many more succumbing to heart and degenerative problems. The most notorious happened in 2007, when WWE star Chris Benoit killed his wife, child and then himself.
So what is the corelation between the two sports? Bigger, faster, stronger.
In both, the athletes or talent involved are constantly looking to run faster, jump higher and be stronger than the last guy who filled their position. So how do you do that?
Please, we all know the answer to that question — performance-enhancing drugs. If you believe that PEDs are not used in either the WWE or professional football, then I would like to introduce you to my pet Sasquatch.
Now, I am not saying that the head trauma caused by vicious hits does not play a role in these situations because it probably does in both events. But, here are two places where those participating are trying to get a leg up on the competition by intentionally changing the natural chemical balances in their bodies. Don’t tell me that is not going to mess you up a little in the head.
“But, both the NFL and WWE have drug testing! How can you say that!”
Easy. First, plenty of former pro wrestlers have come out and said that professional wrestling drug tests are about as real as the outcomes in the ring. Second, much like the recent fight against synthetic marijuana, drug developers are always one step ahead of the testers, creating new designer PEDs well before they can be detected and stopped.
In all, the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. Yes, there is a problem that needs to be addressed by the NFL when it comes to violent collisions and head trauma. It is another common bond between the two, as pro wrestlers spend their careers “taking bumps” that often include landing on their heads, which obviously would cause similar trauma to a pro football player hitting them.
But they also have to take a hard look at the culture of a league where talent is measured not by what is accomplished on the field, but what players do in combines and personal workouts, being drafted on numbers and size which leads to a dangerous competition of doing whatever it takes to shave that extra tenth of a second off your 40 time or get one more rep in on the bench press.
If not, then these stories of former NFL players may become the norm, just like with former pro wrestlers.
Maybe the XFL wasn’t so far-fetched, after all.
Keith Lobdell is the editor of the Valley News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.