Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Time for football to stand down

Something's wrong. A young man, a winner, and a football player we all knew or thought we knew ended his life.

Why? We simply do not know. Junior Seau left no note—and no note means lots of speculation.

Seau was an All American at USC and a perennial Pro Bowl linebacker with the San Diego Chargers. Seau hit hard on the field and off. He was a generous, engaged contributor to his community.

As fans, we loved to see him lay someone out. As fans we could only dream of what it must be like to be a player, to be so dominant, to be a star.

All it required was giving up his body and, now we know, his brain, for the game. A teammate suggested that he had probably 1,000 concussions during his career and that Seau, who played with total abandon, suffered 1,500.

However, Junior Seau's is not the whole story. It's becoming more evident that concussions are frequent in football and that those concussions can cause serious problems in ex-player's lives. With his death last week, Seau becomes the eighth member of the 1994 Super Bowl XXIX San Diego Chargers team to die.

Is it moral for the National Football League to continue doing business as usual when it's aware that that business is really Sunday afternoon Russian roulette for the players? Football is a multi-billion-dollar industry on which fans enthusiastically spend time and money. Football is inherently a violent game, and might not be nearly as exciting without the smack of players colliding. Fans might not be willing to pay the ticket prices or watch televised games without the violence.

So what? What we know is that Seau died last Wednesday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 43. Last year, former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson took his life while fighting depression that was linked to brain trauma caused by repeated blows to the head. And last month, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling committed suicide after contending with serious dementia.

When there is an incident in the Air Force that could threaten the loss of a pilot or plane involved in a similar incident, personnel are ordered to "stand down" until any problems identified can be fixed. It is time for the NFL to stand down until it figures out what is going so wrong with ex-players.

Fans are willing to pay players to take real physical risks to entertain us. They should not have to earn that pay by giving up the rest of their lives.

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