NFL's Junior Seau had brain disease from repeat head trauma

Star linebacker Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide last May, the National Institutes of Health said on Jan. 10.

NFL linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, had a debilitating brain disease, likely from 20 years of blows to the head, ABC News and ESPN reported on Thursday, citing researchers and his family as sources.

Seau, 43, died in May after shooting himself in the chest, one of a handful of former players to have committed suicide after their retirement. He had played for the San Diego Chargers and had a 20-year career in the National Football League.

Results of an NIH study of Seau's brain revealed abnormalities consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

"The brain was independently evaluated by multiple experts, in a blind fashion," said Dr. Russell Lonser, who oversaw the study. "We had the opportunity to get multiple experts involved in a way they wouldn't be able to directly identify his tissue even if they knew he was one of the individuals studied."

The NIH, based in Bethesda, Md., conducted a study of three unidentified brains, one of which was Seau's. It said the findings on Seau were similar to autopsies of people "with exposure to repetitive head injuries."

Seau's family requested the analysis of his brain.

Seau joins a list of several dozen football players who had CTE. Boston University's center for study of the disease reported last month that 34 former pro players and nine who played only college football suffered from CTE.

"I was not surprised after learning a little about CTE that he had it," Seau's 23-year-old son Tyler said. "He did play so many years at that level. I was more just kind of angry I didn't do something more and have the awareness to help him more, and now it is too late.

"I don't think any of us were aware of the side effects that could be going on with head trauma until he passed away. We didn't know his behavior was from head trauma."

That behavior, according to Tyler Seau and Junior's ex-wife Gina, included wild mood swings, irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression.

"He emotionally detached himself and would kind of 'go away' for a little bit," Tyler Seau said. "And then the depression and things like that. It started to progressively get worse."

He hid it well in public, they said. But not when he was with family or close friends.

The NFL faces lawsuits by thousands of former players who say the league withheld information on the harmful effects concussions can have on their health.

Seau is not the first former NFL player who killed himself, then was found to have CTE. Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling are others.

Duerson, a former Chicago Bears defensive back, left a note asking for his brain to be studied for signs of trauma before shooting himself. His family filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL, claiming the league didn't do enough to prevent or treat the concussions that severely damaged his brain.

Easterling played safety for the Falcons in the 1970s. After his career, he suffered from dementia, depression and insomnia, according to his wife, Mary Ann. He committed suicide last April.

Mary Ann Easterling is among the plaintiffs who have sued the NFL.

"It was important to us to get to the bottom of this, the truth," Gina Seau said, "and now that it has been conclusively determined from every expert that he had obviously had it, CTE, we just hope it is taken more seriously.

"You can't deny it exists, and it is hard to deny there is a link between head trauma and CTE. There's such strong evidence correlating head trauma and collisions and CTE."

Tyler Seau played football through high school and for two years in college. He says he has no symptoms of any brain trauma.

Gina Seau's son Jake, now a high school junior, played football for two seasons, but has switched to lacrosse and has been recruited to play at Duke.

"Lacrosse is really his sport and what he is passionate about," she said. "He is a good football player and probably could continue. But especially now watching what his dad went through, he says, 'Why would I risk lacrosse for football?'

"I didn't have to have a discussion with him after we saw what Junior went through."

Her 12-year-old son, Hunter, has shown no interest in playing football.

"That's fine with me," she said.

 

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