In reacting to the suicide of Junior Seau, one the game's most ferocious competitors, current and former players are doing something rarely seen on the rugged NFL landscape.
Dropping the tough-guy act.
"Note to all my former teammates and opponents: Swallow macho BS + go see a doctor," former 49ers lineman Randy Cross wrote on Twitter, part of a torrent of emotional pleas. "Seeking help isn't weakness. It's for all those that love you."
Seau's death at age 43, might prove to be a tipping point for the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, who were already facing a legal challenge from more than 1,000 former players alleging that the NFL failed to properly treat concussions and attempted to conceal possible links between football and brain injuries.
While several other ex-players contacted by this paper credited the NFL for making strides in player safety, it's clear the loss of one of the sport's beloved giants has triggered an unprecedented level of introspection and heartfelt sentiment in a culture known for neither.
"Honestly, I've been in that situation where you do feel like giving up because nobody understands the world that you live in," former 49ers receiver Terrell Owens said on ESPN radio in Dallas. "I think there are a lot of people that have been at that point. Me, other players. People look at us as invincible beings when we're playing such a macho game."
Several of Seau's friends and former teammates wondered if his mental health exacerbated the already difficult transition from NFL stardom to the civilian life.
"I've talked to former teammates who've struggled mightily," Plummer, a longtime 49ers linebacker, said. "Not just within a year of being out but several years. One guy felt he was wandering aimlessly. It needs to come to light that this was not an isolated incident."
Seau, the beloved All-Pro linebacker best known for his 13 seasons with the Chargers, was found at his home with a gunshot wound to the chest. The San Diego County medical examiner ruled the death a suicide.
Seau's method fueled suspicion that he was following the lead of Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bears player who shot himself in the chest rather than the head, presumably so that his brain could be examined by researchers.
Kyle Turley, an NFL lineman for 10 years, has been diagnosed with a progressive brain disease he believes also afflicted his friend Seau. He told the USA Today he thinks this is a crucial awakening.
"I believe Junior's death will be remembered to be the turning point in this fight against CTE, and will wake everyone up," Turley said. "He had too many things to live for to do this. If Junior could wake up today, he wouldn't have done it. But something at that moment got severely crossed in his brain that allowed him to make that decision that life wasn't worth living anymore."
Researchers will study Seau's brain for signs for the degenerative cognitive condition found in about two dozen former NFL players, including three who have committed suicide since 2006: Duerson, Andre Waters and Ray Easterling.
Harry Carson said that such deaths, while tragic, can no longer be described as stunning. "In the past I would have been shocked," the Hall of Fame Giants linebacker told the New York Post. "But I'm not shocked anymore."
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