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Too soon to judge role NFL, head trauma may have played in Junior Seau's passing

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

Before Junior Seau's mother had yet to expose her pain on television Wednesday, at least one expert was using Seau's death as a platform to pontificate about the impact of head injuries in sports.

I'm not going to name the doctor because that would be playing into his desire for credibility. At the same time, I'm also not going to disagree with his theory that head injuries played a role in Seau's death.

[ Video: Junior Seau's mother reacts to tragedy ]

I just don't know. None of us really know. All we know as of today is that Seau is dead and that fact is brutally sad. Great player, good dude and, apparently, tragically unhappy.

From that point on the rest is a bunch of speculation revolving around what, how and why. It is perfectly reasonable to hypothesize that the cumulative effects of 20 years in the NFL and another 15 or so of college, high school and youth football likely had some effect on Seau's cognitive function at the end.

But is that what pushed him to pull the trigger, assuming he actually did? I certainly want to know the answer to that. I, like many of my colleagues, would like to hear and read more good science on this case. I, like high-minded colleague Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated, hope that Seau's family donates his brain to science so we can find some clues.

However, as much as I want to know the effects of a life in football, I want to stop short of blaming the game for what happened to Seau. Ultimately, you have to give just as much credit to football for what he became and how he got to live his life. Football provided Seau a platform to do all sorts of things he might not ever have accomplished, including a successful charity.

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A fan lights a candle to leave in front of the doors Junior Seau's restaurant. (AP)

There are thousands of wonderful stories about Seau. They are funny, endearing and even noble. There's the morning after the San Diego Chargers' Super Bowl loss at the end of the 1994 season, when Seau was at the Miami International Airport on his way to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. He looked around in embarrassment, thinking that everyone was laughing at him for the humiliating loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

There was the interview he did in 2003 after joining the Dolphins. He was asked about one day making the Hall of Fame and what it would mean to fellow Polynesians. He stopped the question before it was done.

[ Michael Silver: Gregarious, hilarious and immensely popular Seau will be missed]

"That would be disrespectful to the men who are already in the Hall of Fame for me to talk about that," Seau said.

Seau loved football to his very core. He loved the traditions surrounding rugby in his family's native Samoa, including the pre-game haka dance. He loved how football, in his view, measured a man.

In short, Seau's life revolved around the game, perhaps so much so it provided an unhealthy balance that left a void once the cameras and the crowds were gone. As much as I want to find that out, I don't know just yet. I hope everyone can withhold their judgment and their opinions for a minute, regardless of how tempting it is to guess.

We are at a critical time in the history of the game. Seau's suicide is at least the third former NFL player to have killed himself in the span of 15 month, joining Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling. Additionally, Andre Waters killed himself in 2006. Disturbing is just the start of how you describe that trend.

Couple that with the flurry of lawsuits recently filed over concussions and the side stories about bounties and football is in a tough spot, both as a business and as a part of our culture. For years, the men who have played the game have accepted that football was a meat grinder. Are they going to continue accepting it as a brain scrambler?

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On Thursday, former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner talked about how uncomfortable he is with the idea of his sons playing the sport. A few years ago, I sat in the living room of former player Dave Pear's house in Seattle. His voice was full of emotion as he talked about how, knowing what he knows now, he would never allow his son to play.

I get that point. I love the game, but I don't really care if my sons play it, either. As conflicted as that sounds, I'm a long way from leading the charge to end the sport. Rather, this is about informed consent. People need to know what the sport can do, both positively and negatively. If there needs to be a Surgeon General's warning on the side of a helmet, fair enough.

Players need to understand both traumatic brain injuries and the cumulative effect of "dings" and having your "bell rung." We need to make sure that former players get proper care. We need to understand whether their post-career travails are influenced by the game.

At the same time, football can be a vehicle for fame, glory and wealth. It can be that platform to make someone a great citizen, an icon. For Seau, that's a fact. His 43 years on this planet were better for having played football.

Whether the game contributed to him ending his life prematurely, let's wait just a little while to find out.

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