Tiaina Baul Seau Jr., known to most strictly as “Junior”, played in the NFL for twenty years. He went to twelve Pro Bowls. He logged over 1,800 tackles. He was named to the NFL’s All-90’s team. By any measure, Seau was one of the greatest linebackers to ever strap on a helmet. It was a truly prolific career.
Seau is also dead because of that prolific career. In May of 2012, at the age of just 43, only three years removed from his final season, Seau committed suicide by shooting himself in the stomach. The autopsy and further studies on his brain and body revealed no traces of substance abuse or some form cancer or the other usual, Tweet-inspiring things that lead to people leaving us too soon. What they did show is that Seau, who had never been officially diagnosed with a concussion during his career, had developed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder that can develop over time from repeated head trauma (i.e. playing linebacker for twenty years).
Seau’s suicide was an eery flashback to the suicide of former NFL safety Dave Duerson a year earlier. Duerson also shot himself in the stomach, leaving a note for his wife requesting that his brain be donated to science to in order to study football-related head trauma. You can probably guess what they found. Duerson also developed CTE.
Seau is set to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday along with the rest of the 2015 class. Initially, the Hall banned any members of Seau’s family from speaking at the ceremony. After a PR storm that included calls from commissioner Roger Goodell, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and probably everyone with decent press credentials- the Hall changed their tune and have decided to allow Seau’s 24 year-old daughter Sydney to speak. I’m sure what she says will be pre-approved, and I doubt she’d go on to much about CTE anyways. She’s a young woman who likely would much rather celebrate her father’s life than mourn his death three years later. Maybe she doesn’t want to see Seau become a martyr for CTE.
But that’s exactly what he is, we’re just not talking about it.
I’ve exhausted myself talking about “DeflateGate” as an actual scandal. I really don’t care about the damn footballs anymore. But as a story, the discussion of it deserves more attention. While DeflateGate, regardless of one’s opinion on it, certainly paints the league in a bad light from a PR standpoint, its nothing compared to what would be happening if we’d be spending the last few months talking about Seau and CTE.
When I say “we”, well, that’s where things get tricky. The mass coverage of DeflateGate isn’t strictly the fault of Roger Goodell and the NFL. Nor can you put all the blame on ESPN, CBS, NBC, and other national media outlets that rely on the NFL. The same goes for local beat writers and radio guys. Media works by discussing what the viewers say they want by tuning in and clicking on articles. ESPN wouldn’t spend all day talking about DeflateGate if people weren’t watching. Countless articles wouldn’t be written if people weren’t reading and sharing them.
So a good chunk of the blame for the coverage surrounding the
induction tragedy of Seau, or lack thereof, is YOUR fault for ever posting that long facebook status and sharing articles about DeflateGate with your friends. It’s MY fault for spending hundreds of tweets talking about Tom Brady. It’s OUR fault. It really is.
We as Americans love nothing more than to support something fully and then find a convenient scapegoat when things take a turn for the worse. Roger Goodell, ESPN, whoever. We like to pretend that we care about the health of these athletes, but only after the fact, when it’s not impacting our fantasy lineups. We turn the other cheek whenever new evidence comes out to support what we’ve known for awhile now- that the game we love is killing people and has been for decades. The same thing happened with the recent domestic violence scandal in the league. We all pretended to care once the Ray Rice video was leaked.
Coincidentally, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to acknowledge the inherent dangers of football. This is a sport where one team is moving in one direction, and the other is doing everything they physically can to prevent the opponent from doing so. Medical advancements, technology, and rule changes are nice and all, but they haven’t exactly solved the problem. Besides, isn’t a bit ridiculous for us fans to pretend to care about CTE and then scream when a ref throws a flag for unnecessary roughness?????
These paragraphs are all for nought. The NFL season is a little over a month away. It’ll surely be another year of record-breaking revenues and TV ratings. I’ll be watching, you’ll be watching. When a player suffers a serious concussion from a brutal hit, we’ll pretend to care on Twitter.
But we don’t care. The least we can do is admit it.