Cheerful and full of light one minute, and racked with depression, memory loss and confusion the next. That was Junior Seau in the months leading up to his suicide, according to a haunting portrait of Seau painted by Jill Leiber Steeg in Sunday's San Diego Union Tribune.
Seau never lost his compassion, sensitivity, or his zeal for helping other people, but in his retirement, Seau's darker side took a stronger hold. They were things out of his control. His brain, for reasons related to football or not, let him down. The farther away he got from football, the worse things became. Here's how Leiber Steeg described the darker side of Seau:
He once had a photographic memory, and never had a documented concussion in his 13 seasons with the Chargers. But he began showing signs of short-term memory loss, diminished concentration, a lack of impulse control and an inability to process numbers. He could snap without warning, becoming verbally and physically abusive to friends, family and loved ones. While some of those symptoms are associated with depression, insomnia and anxiety, they also are associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurring through concussions.
Obviously, it's hard to separate that from football. Seau's family donated their father's brain to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for further research. Seau's son Tyler anticipates getting the results of that study back in three to six months.
I don't think too many people will be surprised if the report comes back with the conclusion that Seau had suffered major damage to his brain through years of repetitive blows to his head. Tyler says now that he's aware of the symptoms for traumatic brain injuries, he knows that his dad "had every single one of them."
Seau's business partner Ted Davenport, talked about how it became harder and harder to communicate with Seau.
"It was very hard to have a phone conversation with him. You'd talk about something, and he'd drift off, or he'd just get up and walk away from the phone. In person, he just didn't seem focused. He'd lost his focus. He was forgetful. He'd say, 'I'll call you right back,' and hang up the phone, then two days later, I'd call him and say, 'You were supposed to call me back,' and he didn't remember having had the conversation with me."
When Seau's body was found, there was a note with it that contained the lyrics of a favorite song of Seau's, called "Who I Ain't."
I never made a deal with the devil, but I broke promises to the Lord
I've tried to be the man I should, but sometimes I fall short
I'm not a man of anger; I never meant to hurt no one
But there are things in my life, I'm sad to say I've done
Cuz I broke the hearts of angels, cursed my fellow man
Turned from the Bible with a bottle in my hand
My only hope for forgiveness, when the good Lord calls my name
Is that He knows who I am and who I ain't
If you interested at all in Junior Seau, what his life was like in retirement, the effects of brain injuries on football players, or why retirement is so difficult for even the healthiest of players, it's a fascinating read and highly recommended.
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