Recently, the family of Junior Seau, the former All-Pro linebacker of the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL for head trauma they believe led to his eventual suicide.
Seau, who played the game for 20 years with reckless abandon to his body, was found in his home a year ago with a gun wound to the chest. His brain was donated and traces of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked from consistent blows to the head, were found. Side effects of CTE include dementia, violent mood swings and depression.
Barack Obama, the President of the United States, even put in his two cents, saying he doesn’t know if he’d allow his son, if he had one, to play football, due to the possibility of injury to the head.
While these types of stories are sad, Seau, and all football players past and present, knew what they were getting themselves into.
I’m not saying players knew what CTE is and what it could do to them while they were playing. I’m saying they knew, from the day they first step on the gridiron, that they were playing a dangerous sport. They made the choice to play.
I know because I made that same choice.
I played football for 12 years (1995-2007). I started in third grade, played at Massabesic High School in Waterboro and was lucky enough to continue my career at Plymouth State University, a NCAA Division III school in New Hampshire. I was a quarterback, and the unfortunate part of the position I played was I was more likely to take a hit than give one, increasing the chance of injury.
So why do we play? The answers vary. For many, it’s love of the game, but there are other factors. Self pride. A need to prove something to yourself or others.
I’ll never forget a game I started in high school in 2002, against Portland. It was Homecoming, and the Bulldogs went on to win the Class A state championship that year thanks to one of the best Maine high school defenses I’ve ever seen.
We lost the game 47-0. I got sacked numerous times, got banged and bruised, and could barely roll out of bed Sunday morning.
But I was proud. Proud that for every hit I took, I got back up. I got back up because my dad, a 24-year veteran of the South Portland fire department, was in the stands. If he is willing to run into a burning building to save people, a far more dangerous situation, it was ridiculous for me not to get up after a hit.
And it was on that day, after one of my biggest failures, that Dad told me he was more proud of me for getting back up on each hit than he would have been if I had thrown four touchdown passes.
To this day, it’s his proudest moment of my life.
Football is a young man’s game, and as young men, we all feel invincible. I certainly did that day against Portland, no matter how bad we lost, because I could get up the next day. But the injuries do take their toll. For most, they get out of the game before it becomes a serious problem. Some players, such as Seau, are able to continue their careers in college and the NFL. The body cannot take the violence of football over a stretch of 20-30 years.
I walked away from the game fairly clean, but it’s not always the case. We didn’t get into the game with a blind eye toward injuries. We just put the idea that we’d get injured into the back of our minds, hoping it wouldn’t happen to us.
Seau couldn’t walk away from the game even though he was set with money and his place in NFL history was secure as a future Hall of Famer. His family could have stepped in any time to force him to retire. They didn’t. Yet now they blame the NFL for his death. They could have could have stopped him from playing, but didn’t.
The NFL has made rule changes and equipment companies are finding new ways to keep players safe. But football will always be a violent game, no matter how much padding is used.
Football players are a different breed of person. Many of them have too much passion to retire.
Sometimes, someone else has to make a choice for them. It’s OK to find these stories sad, but again, they came at the expense of a choice.
If you’re a parent, there’s a possibility your child will one day come home and tell you they want to play football, or another contact sport, such as hockey. Before saying yes, think long and hard. I never regret playing, I learned some of the greatest life lessons playing football. But, those lessons can also come at the expense of injury, which is something that you must also accept when you decide to play.
That choice comes down to you.
Dave Dyer — 621-5639