Junior! Just hearing his name evokes all sorts of images and reminders of one of San Diego’s hometown heroes. He was a beloved and favorite son.
I never met Junior, but I’m sure that the term “hero” is probably one that would have made him uncomfortable. From what I have read about him, I think it would be safe to say that his response would be something along the lines of he was just showing his gratitude in his own simple way to a community and fanbase that idolized him when he was just doing his job. A job he loved so very much. A job that, ultimately, once he hung up his cleats, he could not reconcile being away from. It was a fundamental part of him that eventually caused him to take his own life.
May 2, 2012.
A day many Chargers fans would probably prefer not to remember.
As I write this, it is the four-year anniversary of Junior’s death. I vividly recall feeling the utmost shock when my husband told me, “Seau’s dead.” My brain could not fathom that one of THE most vibrant Chargers’ players was gone. He was so young. The circumstances were more mind-boggling when it was reported that he had shot himself in the chest. Later it was announced that he had deliberately done that to make certain his brain could be donated and posthumously examined for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).
Tiaina Baul “Junior” Seau, Jr. was born in San Diego and played his early football years in Oceanside. He lettered in three sports for the Oceanside Pirates. He accepted a football scholarship to the University of Southern California after graduating from Oceanside High School. Seau was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1989 after totaling 19 sacks and 27 tackles-for-loss as well as receiving All-American honors that year.
It is no wonder that the Bolts took the ferocious, hard-hitting linebacker with the fifth pick in the first round of the 1990 NFL draft. His play was like lightning. One couldn’t help but become engaged while watching Seau blitz the offensive line followed by his signature celebration. Junior would leap up, pump a fist and kick out a leg after dropping a ball carrier or quarterback. How could you not get caught up seeing the ferocity and excitement of Seau over the course of three hours?!
No. 55 brought so much vitality to not only the sport he lived and breathed, but to the people who watched his team because he was one of its stars. He was a very compassionate man who loved giving back to his community and fans. He WAS the San Diego Chargers. HE was the face of the franchise.
He wore lightning bolts on his shoulders from 1990 until 2003. That year, Seau signed with the Miami Dolphins and played there for three years. After Miami let him go, he came home to California.
I remember watching the sports news on August 15, 2006. He had signed a one-day contract with the Chargers. A press conference was held at Chargers Park for all of us to witness Junior’s announcement. The heart and soul of the defense for 13 seasons acknowledged his fellow players, coaches and team management. He stood at the podium, explaining his decision saying, “It’s pretty easy. When a team doesn’t want you or need you, retire, buddy.”, eventually to be followed by the words, “I’m not retiring. I am graduating.” Then he shocked us all four days later by signing a one-year contract with the New England Patriots, stating, “I’m going for my master’s now.”.
There were many honors bestowed upon Seau throughout his stellar 20-year career: 12 times voted to the Pro Bowl; NFL Defensive Player of the year (1992); Walter Payton Man of the Year and AFC Player of the Year (1994); two-time AFC Defensive Player of the Year (1992 and 1998), just to name a few. In 1994, he helped lead San Diego to its lone Super Bowl berth, facing the the San Francisco 49ers. It was a blowout loss. In 2010, he was inducted into Oceanside High School’s Hall of Fame. On September 16, 2012, a mere four months after his death, he was honored by having his jersey No. 55 retired. The white, blue and gold banner with his name and number hangs and flies high above Qualcomm Stadium.
The best was yet to come, however.
August 8, 2015, the final accolade. It was bittersweet to watch as he was posthumously voted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. The Bolts’ beloved linebacker finished his career with 1,524 tackles, 56.5 sacks and 18 interceptions.
Perhaps one of the most poignant descriptions of Seau was this one made by former NFL cornerback for the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers Willie Buchanon. He claimed, “Mr. San Diego, Mr. Oceanside, everything that deals with football in this community deals with Junior Seau.” This on the field of Seau’s high school alma mater, when his No. 11 jersey was retired there.
We all miss you, Junior Seau. In our minds, we can see you strumming your ukelele and singing your songs, or being in one of your favorite places, the ocean, riding those sweet waves as you surf to your heart’s content. In our hearts we recall your infectious smile, your enduring friendship, your deep compassion, your profound love of family.
Most of all, we will remember the inspiration that was you.
Rest in peace, buddy!!
Thanks for reading.
Word got out last week that the NFL was not going to permit the Seau family to attend or present San Diego Chargers legend Junior Seau into the Hall of Fame. The NFL Hall-Of-Fame enshrinement ceremony will take place on August 8th.
Many subplots surround this story. In a tragic end to a great story, Junior took his own life and it was later revealed he suffered from CTE. In medical terms, CTE is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
This is the definition of CTE, as taken directly from the Boston University CTE center:
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head. CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920s. However, recent reports have been published of neuropathologically confirmed CTE in retired professional football players and other athletes who have a history of repetitive brain trauma.
This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.
This and other medical information is something the NFL has long had access to but neglected to use, hence, the eventual settlement. The concussions incurred from Seau’s relentless playing style as one of if not the league’s best middle linebackers in his time period is the cause of his CTE. However, Seau was not once diagnosed with a concussion during his playing career.
Over the last three years the effects of concussions and a greater emphasis on player safety has become a priority. In January 2014, a 675-million concussion settlement was reached in litigation between the NFL vs. retired NFL players and their families. The settlement was rejected by federal judges, then ultimately became an uncapped monetary settlement in April 2015, ensuring all retired players requiring money for their illnesses were accommodated.
Junior himself said he wanted his daughter Sydney to induct him into the Hall-of-Fame. The NFL told Sydney Seau she could speak at the induction ceremony then eventually changed their minds. The reason for their reversal of course is a five-year-old policy declaring families can’t speak for players inducted posthumously. Seau ended his life in 2012.
The NFL is allowing a five-minute highlight reel to be played as his induction piece, 60% longer than the two-minute highlight package given to other players.
Hold your applause…
The league is obviously afraid of what the family would have to say. After all, the family does have a lawsuit filed against the NFL in light of the CTE findings and the NFL’s hiding of such information from its players. It’s a legitimate fear from the league. The last thing they want is family members creating a scene over their inductee, who literally gave his life to the game. It only takes one to ruin it for the rest.
That’s never happened. It wouldn’t with Sydney Seau.
The Seau family wouldn’t want the last public image of Junior and their family to be a rambling, chaotic diatribe against the NFL. Sydney Seau reveres her father and would add nothing but class to the proceedings in a tribute fitting of an NFL legend.
The NFL also mentioned time constraints.
For those of you who haven’t watched an NFL Hall-Of-Fame induction ceremony, it lasts for five to six hours. The inductees take the podium and talk…and talk…and talk. They start at childhood and almost give a year by year synopsis of their life. These speeches can and usually do go for an hour or more. What we see on Sportscenter are the few seconds of material that won’t put us to sleep. Let’s start with cutting their podium time if you want a streamlined show. Time is logic almost as ludicrous as the family induction rule.
Five minutes isn’t worthy of a man who is arguably one of the greatest middle ever linebackers to compete in the NFL. Five minutes isn’t worthy of a 12-time Pro Bowler, NFL Defensive player of the year, member of the NFL’s 40th and 50th anniversary team, and 1990’s All-Decade team.
Five minutes isn’t worthy of a man who, in his greatest game, was literally single-handedly responsible for the Chargers 1994 AFC Championship game victory over the favored Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, Seau recorded 16 tackles playing with a pinched nerve in his neck that left him without the feeling in his left arm.
In reality, the NFL is missing a golden opportunity. In a perfect world, this is what would happen. Sydney Seau would get fifteen minutes of podium time, short and sweet by HOF standards. She would have time to lovingly speak from her heart and for the family. She would make no mention of the CTE, just of what Junior meant as a son, brother, father and community activist.
After Sydney’s’ speech is concluded she would be joined at the podium by Roger Goodell, who would lead the audience in another round of applause. After a warm hug and a few seconds posing for photographers, Goodell himself would speak about CTE and what the NFL is doing to improve the safety of its players. He could then take a moment to offer his condolences to Sydney and use Junior’s life as a message to the NFL to get players treatment now so this doesn’t happen in the future.
Simply put, the NFL is hiding something they need to be bringing more attention to and this is a great forum to address it.
Standing next to Sydney Seau in a show of solidarity would send a strong message. It would speak to the retired players and legends in attendance. It would speak to over 4000 players who have lawsuits filed against the NFL right now. It’s an acknowledgement of the league’s compassion for the players that made the NFL what it is today. It’s a chance to get some good press amidst the ongoing Deflategate scandal and endless suspensions surrounding the upcoming season. It’s a chance to abolish a flawed rule and a chance to increase the luster of the shield instead of tarnishing the families behind it.
Tell the NFL how you feel. Use the hashtag.