An extraordinary former linebacker passed away today. His name was Junior Seau.
Seau is a well-known name around these parts, even though he only played for the Patriots for three years, from 2006-2009. But it wasn’t so much what he did on the field that made him so memorable. It was who he was off it.
On this day, the sports world has been abuzz with people sharing stories and memories about Seau. The one common thread that connects them is how personable, how fun-loving, how soulful, how patient, how loving a man he was. How he called everyone “buddy” and he in turn is remembered as one. How his pre-game speeches could rival those of Ray Lewis for their passion. How charitable he was in his community. How he always had a smile on his face.
On this day, Junior Seau, according to California police, took his own life.
Many blame it on depression, and something called CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). It’s a trauma-induced disease that many former NFL players are thought to have. All those years of getting their bodies knocked around takes a toll, and CTE can lead to severe depression.
For twenty years, Seau played the game he loved. So while some will use his name as a cautionary tale against the ravages of a game we all worship, I won’t.
For twenty years, Seau played the game he loved. It was a life he chose. It was a life that no doubt brought light and happiness to him. That was clear every time he stepped on the field.
So I won’t remember Seau as the NFL player who may have suffered from CTE and killed himself because of it.
I’ll remember him as he was on January 10, 2009, when the Patriots played the Baltimore Ravens in a wild-card playoff game.
The Pats were losing badly in the fourth quarter. The game was all but lost. But Seau, the oldest man on the field by a mile, kept playing as hard as he could. He refused to let himself or any other player quit because of the score.
He wouldn’t let them quit period.
I am not naive enough to dismiss the dangers of football. I know they exist and are all too real. But in his death, I hope Seau would want us to remember his life, so much of which was spent on a muddy football field.
RIP, Mr. Seau. You were a true champion.