Skip to content

Doctors say Junior Seau’s brain was damaged by head trauma

gty_junior_seau_ll_120507_wg Getty Images

Junior Seau, the future Hall of Fame linebacker who committed suicide in May, suffered from the same type of brain damage that has now been found in dozens of former NFL players.

After Seau’s death, brain specialists with the National Institutes of Health studied his brain, and they have told his family that his brain tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease caused by head trauma that can lead to depression, among other symptoms.

“I think it’s important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from CTE,” his ex-wife Gina Seau told ESPN. “It’s important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don’t want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes.”

The death of Seau, who committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest, was eerily similar to the suicide of former NFL defensive back Dave Duerson, who also committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest and who left a note requesting that his brain be studied. Researchers at Boston University have found CTE in the brains of 33 deceased NFL players.

A statement from the National Institutes of Health said that Seau’s brain showed “evidence of scarring that is consistent with a small, old traumatic brain injury.”

The NFL is still in the early stages of grappling with the fact that many men leave this game with damaged brains. Gina Seau said the NFL’s pace of dealing with brain damage on the field was “too slow for us.”

Permalink 49 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Rumor Mill, San Diego Chargers, Top Stories
49 Responses to “Doctors say Junior Seau’s brain was damaged by head trauma”
  1. demolition510 says: Jan 10, 2013 8:33 AM

    NFL/NFLPA needs to take care of its players.

    More importantly the U.S. needs to take card of its vets!!!

  2. demolition510 says: Jan 10, 2013 8:34 AM

    *care

  3. dcfan4life says: Jan 10, 2013 8:36 AM

    Sad but expected news. If the NFL can get the youth leagues, high schools and colleges to teach the kids to stop leading with their heads for tackles, then players could avoid a majority of head hits they otherwise would receive. It may already be too late to enforce it at the NFL level after years and years of hits before these players went pro.

  4. tatatoothy says: Jan 10, 2013 8:37 AM

    Still so sad…

  5. mdd913 says: Jan 10, 2013 8:40 AM

    That’s OK, we’ll just suspend more Saints players.

  6. shackdelrio says: Jan 10, 2013 8:40 AM

    Unfortunately, this news is not surprising.

  7. FinFan68 says: Jan 10, 2013 8:42 AM

    It’s a shame, but why is it just the NFL’s fault and never the players’ fault at all? These guys chose their professions and even after suffering concussions they again chose to continue (most actively chose to hide their symptoms). I am not saying that safety should be disregarded. The players and NFLPA cannot continue to fight the league on every safety issue (some merely because they just wouldn’t look cool enough) and then complain and sue the league for damages that they knowingly and willingly helped to create.

  8. seeptermean says: Jan 10, 2013 8:46 AM

    So it’s likely that playing football is related to CTE, however it’s difficult to say exactly what causes it. They are blaming concussions right now, but you can’t throw out the possibility that even minor repetitive trauma causes CTE. People make the argument to get rid of football helmets. I’ve talked to a few Aussie Rules football player (who don’t wear helmets) and they’ve had concussions numbering in the 20’s. I’d like to see what their brains look like and if that’s related to bad decisions they make as well that might be associated with CTE.

  9. taylorgang24 says: Jan 10, 2013 8:49 AM

    So dumb to say its the players fault at all. People will always be willing to become a star athlete and make millions no matter what the cost to their health. People choose to work for mining companies too, doesn’t mean u don’t have to try to protect their health as much as possible.

  10. truthfactory says: Jan 10, 2013 8:55 AM

    The news isnt surprising. Its going to lead to a big money grab lawsuit. But now that the players know, I dont see them willingly retire because of the dangers. Bottom line is they want their money.

  11. man2man2013 says: Jan 10, 2013 8:58 AM

    Really? I mean he only played football for like 30 years. Of course he had brain injuries. Some people just don’t want to be here any more. Can’t blame everything on the game. Jyst saying.

  12. ndizzl says: Jan 10, 2013 8:59 AM

    Players make the choice to continue playing after a concussion. They know the inherited risk of playing football and they get millions of dollars to do so. I don’t think it is the NFLs job to make decisions for a grown man.

  13. thereisfootballwestofjersey says: Jan 10, 2013 9:00 AM

    Lord only knows what today’s NFL players put in their bodies to improve speed & strength in the pursuit of multi million dollar contracts. They’re stronger, faster, larger thus the collisions more violent. More violent collisions = more head trauma.

    Isn’t the onus on the NFLPA to come forward with a wide reaching, thorough drug testing policy that was agreed to in the new 2011?

  14. ncbengalmike says: Jan 10, 2013 9:04 AM

    So we have players taking HGH and other approved supplements to get bigger and faster. Steroids to come back from injury, and Adderall to make them more reckless yet when they retire they sue the NFL for not being safe? Jr. retired twice, came back long after he could play.

    This is akin to smoking cigarettes for 15 years, getting lung cancer, and suing the tobacco company

  15. spicymudbugs says: Jan 10, 2013 9:08 AM

    The person chooses to play in a high risk high reward profession. There are consequences but there are also other careers they could choose. It’s not the NFL’s fault at all.

  16. gallaghedj311 says: Jan 10, 2013 9:15 AM

    How can you prove these injuries were sustained at the professional level at not at the collegiate level? I think it’s irresponsible to single out the NFL and ignore what happened during their NCAA playing days. And if it’s impossible to determine when the injuries happened, lawsuit dismissed!

  17. joetoronto says: Jan 10, 2013 9:19 AM

    The fact is that Seau was just fine until he got cut. Then all of a sudden, he’s damaged goods.

    Nope, I’m not buying this garbage, not for a second.

    Seau crapped on his two young kids and his mother and for that, he’s the ultimate coward to me.

  18. bduncanscott says: Jan 10, 2013 9:20 AM

    Absolute BS! If anything his brain was damaged by drugs and alcohol! I live in SD and he was a regular at many parties and bars here, though he at one time was a dominate football player he had become a partier living in the shadow of what he “used to be”. It’s Sad but true, he drove his SUV off a cliff by my house one morning then said it was an accident, but to fly off the cliffs he drove off there is no accident there are many obstacles to drive through and around to actually drive off. It was on purpose, it’s a depression common among partiers who are sinking deep into the party scene of drugs and alcohol but who also know they are capable of zoo much more in their lives. Some people LOVE the spotlight when they’re in it, and don’t know how to find their own self worth within, without the constant media and fan praise. Ironically those who we look at as so powerful and confident sometimes are actually the most insecure which tends to be what leads them into a lifestyle that draws them constant and continual praise and attention, it’s to make them feel they’re
    “Good enough” each day. When that’s all over and they fade from the public eye, they tend to find that celebrity status in the local bar scene, which is what tends to keep them sinking into that party lifestyle, they receive that constant attention or stimulation again… So just like working out to perform better on the field to get more praise, now their new gym is the bar, and it’s the attention the makes them sink deeper into behaviors and actions that also bring with them a great deal of depression and disappointment. So maybe for former players counseling on life out of the spotlight may be a way to go.

  19. rockthered1286 says: Jan 10, 2013 9:27 AM

    Try this on for size: when a player gets a concussion, they must sit until cleared. Once cleared, some players have been wearing a new, heavy duty helmet. The helmet is more protective and absorbs more blows than a standard NFL helmet. So why are the players not being proactive and why is the NFL not requiring the safer helmet to be worn all the time, not just post-concussion? The same reason the players turned down the additional padding to the legs a few years back- it slows them down (heavier helmet) and they don’t like how it fits. So essentially THEY (NFLPA) are willing to sacrifice their safety and health because they don’t like the helmets that are available to lessen head trauma. But it’s the NFL’s fault, not the players… got it.

  20. albertmn says: Jan 10, 2013 9:33 AM

    So, is there any way to do this testing on live people? If there is (or will be one day), maybe all retiring players should be tested. That would allow them to know what they might encounter later in life. They could try to treat the depression prior to it getting further out of control. Heck, maybe active players should be tested every year or two as well. It would help them make informed decisions on whether to keep playing or not.

  21. moeman79 says: Jan 10, 2013 9:36 AM

    He got paid very well for his talent and the risk involved to his health. I am sure he did not live a rough life. The infantry,cavalry,tankers and Marines out there who have the same injuries but non of the glam of these NFL players need you to help them, as they don’t have the money or power that star players have.

  22. bigbenh8tr says: Jan 10, 2013 9:45 AM

    mdd913 says: Jan 10, 2013 8:40 AM

    That’s OK, we’ll just suspend more Saints players.
    ______________________________________
    You should be banned from this site forever. You have no idea how offensive making a joke about this is for someone who may have lived thru a TBI or is close to someone who has experienced a TBI.

    TBI is one of the most important issues that needs to be vocalized across our country today. The #1 cause if accidental falls which means it is something that doesn’t just have an effect on athletes, veterans, but everyone in the United State, with children/elderly being most likely to suffer a TBI.

    I hope you think long and hard before posting something similar again, it is a lot more important than cheating/not cheating in football.

  23. j0esixpack says: Jan 10, 2013 9:46 AM

    Seau knew it in himself. It wasn’t a coincidence he didn’t shoot himself in the head.

    Beyond that, there’s no point in finding rationality in an irrational act of suicide. Had he been able to think clearly he would still be here.

    It’s time the NFL took a lead in breaking down the stigmas of mental illness that prevent so many – men in particular – from getting help.

    3 times more people die by suicide each year than in drunk driving. More soldiers and veterans die by suicide than in combat. No one seems to know or care.

    The NFL wears pink gloves and uniforms to draw attention to the 36,000 breast cancer deaths each year. They do nothing to draw attention to the 36,000 deaths by suicide – a growing number of which are their fellow players.

  24. inyourfaceholes says: Jan 10, 2013 9:51 AM

    The problem is that all the protective gear makes them think they are invincible.

    They need to go back to leather helmets.

  25. u2krazie says: Jan 10, 2013 10:01 AM

    what about having a healthy lifestyle like Franco Harris? Harris becomes a vegetarian taking care of his health. For Seau, he got the fame, the glitter, the chicks. In SD’s bar he usually goes after the hotties and the drinks. He made a choice. The choice fills with risk. Please don’t blame it on the NFL.

  26. kevbarnett says: Jan 10, 2013 10:13 AM

    Concussions are the main culpret here but I believe players are having a hard time adjusting to life after the NFL. It’s easy to see why these guys suffer from depression after they leave the league. Players are part of a team from 18-35. They are travelling across the country in a controlled environment with teammates, coaches, and support staff. They have a regimen, practices, and then games. When that ends they must suffer from some sort of mental depression. I won’t go as far to call it PTSD or postpartum depression. While the majority of players easily adapt back into civilized life there are a select few who obviously cannot.

  27. yyyass says: Jan 10, 2013 10:38 AM

    They need to take the game back to where it was “tackle” football, before the idea and equipment led to “hitting”. Whether that done by removing helmets or providing padded versions instead of battering rams they wear now, they’ll have to do something. The players who are currently playing have suffered thousands of impacts via blocking and tackling drills where he head and shoulders are lowered, let alone games. You can’t undo that damage, but you can start to reinvent the game so players are still lucid in their 60’s and later, and in some cases – alive.

  28. finfanjim says: Jan 10, 2013 10:51 AM

    Everyone wants to place blame. Guess what? Sometimes there is no blame to be had, just unfortunate circumstances.

    All these brain studies and diagnoses have just been coming up in recent years.

    It’s true that we knew that hits to the body and brain over the years would lead to long term issues. But those were what we could see ad fully understand. I think for the past 50 years, players and the league knew the risks. Players take them and the NFL has worked to cover many post-retirement costs.

    As for the depth of knowledge in what happens in the brain, that’s just coming out and is still being explored. To blame ANYONE for trying to foresee this is ridiculous.

    If anything, I give credit to the NFL for trying to regulate hits, at the expense of many defensive players trying to feminize the circumstances.

    This is a sad situation. But one that no one knew about even 15 years ago. No blame needed.

  29. taintedsaints2009 says: Jan 10, 2013 10:53 AM

    Sounded like a great guy to be around. Still a sad story. So many people have stories about Seau hanging out with them, saying he was just a joy to be around.

  30. iamaltair says: Jan 10, 2013 11:05 AM

    As sad as the news about Junior Seau was, this is a money grab by his family. Why is the media running with this test confirming Seau had CTE when there were 11 other tests before it confirming Seau did not have CTE. The first test was done by the organization that discovered CTE and only exists to find and help learn more about CTE. I thought ProFootballTalk was better than the rest of the media and would atleast report the other tests. However, I seem to have been proven wrong and shown that PFT is just like all the other major media outlets. Disgusting.

  31. packerbadger says: Jan 10, 2013 11:17 AM

    Smacking your head at 20-30 mph thousands of times causes brain damage? Really? Say it ain’t so!

  32. echoplex89 says: Jan 10, 2013 11:23 AM

    Repetitive contact, which is inherent to the sport, is more strongly linked to CTE than concussions. The league is focusing on concussions and “player safety” because if wants to give the impression that this is a manageable problem. If science can concretely show the very nature of the sport in fact encourages brain trauma, that is dangerous for the NFL’s image and product. So the “player safety” initiative is the league trying to protect itself from this fact and distracting the public from these more damaging findings that the sport is bad for your brain.

    Check out Boston University’s CTE center. They’re at the forefront of this stuff.

  33. nflfan87 says: Jan 10, 2013 11:25 AM

    These are some of the most *%^#$%@#$ posts I’ve seen in quite some time. The NFL deliberately soft pedaled (probably the understatement of the year) the issue of concussions/head trauma in favor of growing the almighty buck. According to De Smtih on OTL yesterday, to the point they were writing letters to prevent the publishing of Ben Omalu’s CTE research. It would be one thing if the NFL had just sat around and did nothing but thats not the case. They were proactive in suppressing the research and development of protecting the long term health of its players, all while still not providing any sort of long term healthcare for any of them. If its not criminal, it’s egregiously immoral. What people need to understand is that its not the concussions that are causing the brain damage, its the treatment of concussions. It’s not an ankle injury. Once you suffer a TBI, you have to give the brain the proper rest. There’s no question that player’s attitudes have to change and that hiding brain injuries are a big part of the problem. But when you’re in an environment where the medical professionals are treating concussions/head injuries like they’re no big deal, can we really assume the players really know the risks they’re subjecting themselves too? If you think the NFL isn’t responsible for the mess they’ve created behind the laughable ideology that the employees should just accept the risk, then I’m guessing all those people out there who have died from Mesothelioma and the like are just SOTL and thems the breaks…

  34. Myron Mesecke says: Jan 10, 2013 11:28 AM

    Players hit harder because they are protected. The exterior of their head is protected. Not what is inside. There needs to be tactile feedback built into the helmets. Hit hard enough to hurt the brain and you feel it on the outside too.

    How about blunt cones or half spheres that are shorter than the padding is thick? Hit hard enough and the padding compresses. The cones or spheres then hit the outside of your head where it hurts. It lets the players know they are hitting too hard.

    You could do the same thing with sensors and have a beep go off on a helmet speaker but players would ignore that. Instead they would try to hit hard enough to make it beep. An ego thing.

    But make it actually hurt and they will pay attention.

    Or put dye capsules on the end of the cones or spheres. That way after each game team doctors would know who to examine.

  35. nobisoreal says: Jan 10, 2013 11:39 AM

    As someone said, it’s ridiculous to try to address this at the NFL level. This is after a lifetime of brain trauma, from Pop Warner on. Most athletes probably aren’t going to injure their brain in their 3 year NFL career as much as they have their whole life. I think the rules should be opposite, instead of letting these kids take each others head off in college (where they arent even getting paid), fix it there. Then in the pros let these guys who are paid well and understand the risks actually HIT EACH OTHER the way football is meant to be played. These personal fouls this season are so god damn annoying.

  36. dctomia says: Jan 10, 2013 11:49 AM

    Its unfortunate that these things happen but it is the reality.

    With any job there are risks. Miners, firemen, loggers, etc. all know the risks of their job as it is part of their duty.

    That being said these football players get paid millions of dollars to play a game. They know the risks. Helmet to helmet contact I agree should be illegal but some of the calls this year were straight up horrible and its hurting the game.

    Bottom line is if you want to make millions playing a game then you pay the price. RIP Junior Seau.

  37. roadtrip3500 says: Jan 10, 2013 11:49 AM

    The media has to take some blame as well, glorifying the “big hit” in every highlight show. ESPN had the “Jacked Up” segment that was nothing but guys getting blown up on the field. Don’t think for a second players didn’t want to be featured on those spots – they used that glory to intimidate opponents.

    The networks and websites should start glorifying the clean blocks, the form tackles, and the smart plays… “StarDefender wrapped him up and parked StarBallCarrier on his butt – that’s the way you do it!”

  38. demo1984 says: Jan 10, 2013 12:08 PM

    dcfan4life says:
    Jan 10, 2013 8:36 AM
    Sad but expected news. If the NFL can get the youth leagues, high schools and colleges to teach the kids to stop leading with their heads for tackles, then players could avoid a majority of head hits they otherwise would receive. It may already be too late to enforce it at the NFL level after years and years of hits before these players went pro.

    Not sure where you played football but I started in the 5th grade and played up to college and was never taught to lead with my head. Leading with your head ws a penalty even back then, it was called spearing. We were taught to put our facemask in a players chest, wrap up and run through them. NEVER were we ever taught to lead with our head.
    What these kids need to be taught is to not hit head to head.

  39. natelan69 says: Jan 10, 2013 12:19 PM

    I don’t think you can legislate or regulate head trauma out of the NFL without SUBSTANTIALLY changing the way the game is played, including completely eliminating head-to-head collisions which are invariably inevitable in the sport (and often an attraction for many of its fans).

    So you’ve got two choices…

    1) Players assume the liability when making the decision to play. It’s as simple as “is the money I’m being offered today, worth the health risks tomorrow?”

    Or

    2) Completely change the game in an effort to eliminate head-on collisions.

    Option #1 being the path of least resistance, I think we know what’s going to happen. Nothing.

  40. sailbum7 says: Jan 10, 2013 12:34 PM

    This is not at all unexpected news. Seau committing suicide was a huge loss. Not only was Seau a great player on the field, he was a truly great person off the field. He has done a lot for the San Diego community over the years and his charity that helped at risk kids was a major success. He was one of those rare NFL players whose reputation of the field was as good or better than his reputation on the field. He really cared about and supported the community off the field that supported him so much when he was on the field. He truly believed in giving back and will be sorely missed. Hopefully the NFL and the players association can come up with changes to the game and the equipment that will minimize, if not prevent many more repeats of this tragedy. A good first step would be better monitoring of players after they retire to make sure those who are having problems get the help they need.

  41. tindeaux says: Jan 10, 2013 12:39 PM

    this is why the nfl came up with rules to prevent helmet-to-helmet contact and things like that. I know it $ucks in the process, but in the end, you’d want to see people retire from the game healthy.

    btw, thanks to the NFL for bringing good entertainment to the US of A.

  42. comeonnowguys says: Jan 10, 2013 12:53 PM

    There’s got to be middle ground, small changes to multiple aspects.

    1) Realize that nothing will ever completely eliminate concussions and repetitive hits to the head.

    2) Fundamentals. Keep your head up. You’re more likely to make a better tackle.

    3) Padding. I’d like to see the comparisons in head injuries/concussions between football and rugby, aussie rules and gaelic rules.

    Does the fact they’re covered from head to toe (or at least waist) cause players to play with more abandon?

    4) Enforcement. This may be the trickiest, because you already see players tanking baseline tests and limping off the field to set up the “I didn’t get my bell rung, it was ___.”

    Obviously, well-informed players assume the risk, and I don’t want flag football in the least. I also don’t want to look back at the career and life of people for which I cheered with the tragic retrospect that it’s what directly led to their early death.

    Sure it’s hard to find that right balance between better safety, tradition and entertainment, but it’s a billion-dollar business. I’d like to think it’s worth their while.

  43. mostlombardisintheleague says: Jan 10, 2013 1:08 PM

    Any suicide is horrible especially a young person with a family. But NFL players are not forced to play football for a living, they make a decision to do it voluntarily and they get paid a lot of money to do it. What about a man who decides to become an iron worker and one day falls to his death walking across a high beam ? It’s a known occupational hazzard but people volunteer to do it anyway because of the high pay.
    How many players come and go through the NFL and how many of them never incur any type of brain disorder/injury, what is the ratio ?

  44. kellij666 says: Jan 10, 2013 1:11 PM

    How can you prove these injuries were sustained at the professional level at not at the collegiate level? I think it’s irresponsible to single out the NFL and ignore what happened during their NCAA playing days. And if it’s impossible to determine when the injuries happened, lawsuit dismissed!

    The NFL has the deepest pockets….

  45. skittlesareyum says: Jan 10, 2013 2:16 PM

    The problem with everyone’s statement of “they knew the risks” is even ten years ago they did NOT know the risks. The knowledge of how concussions commonly lead to CTE in football players is very new. They all knew the physical risks, but the mental risks are a different story. Unless of course you all are neurosurgeons who’ve been sitting on that knowledge.

  46. dylanesq says: Jan 10, 2013 3:21 PM

    How very sad, yet comforting, for Junior’s family for them to know that things weren’t right for him and he had little control of what occured. To kno he chose to leave them for no reason related to them but because he was physiologically imapired from playing his sport. It affected me quite emotionally to read this finding.

    It would change the game but maybe we should consider starting to change things, so this does not happen to players, by teaching at the kids’ level to leg tackle (i.e. as in Rugby, bring players down by throwing your arms around, preferebly, the ankles or knees.

  47. judsonjr says: Jan 10, 2013 3:36 PM

    It’s stupid to pin this on CTE. A football player retiring goes through a MASSIVE life change when he retires. There’s less money coming in, less structure of your time, more time with a family that you may not truly know, and all the aches and pains that hurt a lot more as you get older. It’s a recipe for depression or substance abuse, with or without CTE.

  48. darrylh1978 says: Jan 11, 2013 1:37 AM

    He shot himself. I don’t care what anyone says, HE is to blame for it. Not anyone or anything else. Sure it might make his family and friends feel better if you let them place blame elsewhere. But the bottom line is HE pulled the trigger…

  49. nflfan87 says: Jan 11, 2013 1:26 PM

    darrylh1978 says:
    Jan 11, 2013 1:37 AM
    He shot himself. I don’t care what anyone says, HE is to blame for it. Not anyone or anything else. Sure it might make his family and friends feel better if you let them place blame elsewhere. But the bottom line is HE pulled the trigger…

    You are a total moron Darryl. Seau doesn’t commit suicide if not for CTE… IDIOT.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!