Suicides & Football: What Is The Connection?

Blog-Suicides & Football What Is The Connection

In May 2012, former all-star NFL linebacker Junior Seau tragically took his own life. This came as a shock to everybody as Seau was loved by family, friends and fans alike. The circumstances of his death at the young age of 43 also carry many questions surrounding his struggles with depression and its connection to playing football.

What Research Says

Researches from the National Institutes of Health sought to answer some of these questions in the report they release that confirmed that Junior Seau suffered from a degenerative brain disease often linked with repeated blows to the head.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a neurodegenerative condition that can lead to memory loss, dementia and depression. Seau’s family donated his brain to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., to find out if he was one of many players whose time in the NFL led to CTE.

“It was important to us to get to the bottom of this, the truth,” Gina Seau added, “and now that it has been conclusively determined from every expert that he had obviously had CTE, we just hope it is taken more seriously. You can’t deny it exists, and it is hard to deny there is a link between head trauma and CTE. There’s such strong evidence correlating head trauma and collisions and CTE.” “It’s important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don’t want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes.”

Junior Seau’s Diagnosis

Dr. Russell Lonser, the former Chief of Surgical Neurology at the NIH, said that because of the publicity surrounding Seau’s death, Seau’s brain was “blinded” during research so that nobody doing the diagnosis would know whose brain they were studying.

“The neuropathologists each examined tissue samples from three different unidentified brains. The official, unanimous diagnosis of Mr. Seau’s brain was a ‘multi-focal tauopathy consistent with a diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy,’ the NIH said in its statement. “In addition, there was a very small region in the left frontal lobe of the brain with evidence of scarring that is consistent with a small, old, traumatic brain injury.”

“Specifically, the neuropathologists found abnormal, small clusters called neurofibrillary tangles of a protein known as tau within multiple regions of Mr. Seau’s brain. Tau is a normal brain protein that folds into tangled masses in the brain cells of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and many other progressive neurological disorders. The regional brain distribution of the tau tangles observed in this case is unique to CTE and distinguishes it from other brain disorders.”

“The type of findings seen in Mr. Seau’s brain have been recently reported in autopsies of individuals with exposure to repetitive head injury, including professional and amateur athletes who played contact sports, individuals with multiple concussions, and veterans exposed to blast injury and other trauma.

Behavior Swings

In the final years of his life, Seau had wild behavioral swings, according to ex-wife, Gina, and 23-year-old son, Tyler, along with signs of irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression. He hid it well in public, they said, but not when he was with family or close friends.

Gina Seau said that the diagnosis was not a surprise. “We saw changes in his behavior and things that didn’t add up with him, but (CTE) was not something we considered or even were aware of. The difference with Junior … from an emotional standpoint [was] how detached he became emotionally,” she said. “It was so obvious to me because early, many, many years ago, he used to be such a phenomenal communicator. If there was a problem in any relationship, whether it was between us or a relationship with one of his coaches or teammates or somewhere in the business world, he would sit down and talk about it.”

Was CTE To Blame?

In his 20-year NFL career, Seau was never listed as having a concussion on any medical or injury report, but he joins a list of several dozen football players who were found to have CTE. Boston University’s center for study of the disease reported last month that 34 former pro players and, nine who played only college football, suffered from CTE.

Seau is not the first former NFL player who killed himself and later was found to have had CTE. Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling are others. Before shooting himself, Duerson, a former Chicago Bears defensive back, left a note asking that his brain be studied for signs of trauma. His family filed a wrongful-death suit against the NFL, claiming the league didn’t do enough to prevent or treat the concussions that severely damaged his brain. Easterling played safety for the Falcons in the 1970s. After his career, he suffered from dementia, depression and insomnia, according to his wife, Mary Ann. He committed suicide last April.

Your Brain on Football

Given how football is played, the problem the NFL is going to face is there is really no way to prevent these types of injuries. Helmets only prevent skull fractures. Your brain is very soft; composed of about 80 percent water and is the consistency of soft butter. Your brain is housed in a hard skull surrounded by fluid. When these hits happen on the football field, the head comes to an abrupt stop, but the brain which is suspended within the skull, continues in the path of motion where the head and helmet stopped. The brain then strikes that portion of the skull. Every time this happens neurons are being ripped and damaged. Over time these areas can lose function causing emotional, behavioral, and cognitive problems. It is imperative to bring this information to light so that more people understand the dangers of these contact sports and the detrimental effect it can have on their mental health.

We Can Help

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Amen Clinics has helped thousands of people heal their brains and we can help you, too. With targeted treatment, you can change your brain and change your life. If you or a loved one is struggling with behavior issues or want to learn more about the effects of brain injury, please call us today at 888-288-9834 or visit our website to schedule an appointment.

1 Comment »

  1. Can the Amen centers help CTE? Recently professional athletes Mike Adamie, David Ross, Brett Farve and others appeared on the Megan Kelly show discussing CTE. In the report they noted that there was no cure for the disease and that the disease itself could not be confirmed until death. Can the Amen clinic treat the brain and slow and/or improve its condition to better cope or reverse CTE symptoms?

    Comment by Kim Fuglestad — April 12, 2018 @ 6:02 AM

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