5:41pm May 3, 2012

Junior Seau: Using Sports to Leave the Hood Went Wrong


Former San Diego Charger Tiaina Baul “Junior” Seau, Jr.’s tragic death by suicide yesterday turned sports fans in a tizzy yesterday, struggling to make sense to the reason a vibrant sports icon would end his own life. Yesterday, Saul’s girlfriend found him in his home with a single self-inflicted fatal gunshot wound in the chest.

Seau spent 13 seasons with the Chargers throughout the 1990 and 2002 seasons and also played for the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.

There are still unanswered questions. It is unknown whether he was suffering in silence from depression.  Or, he could have been dealing with a series of injuries related to his years playing football and a 2010 accident that happened when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his SUV over a Carlsbad, California ravine following a domestic incident with his then-girlfriend.

Already, some are linking and likening the tragedy with the suicide death of Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson who left a suicide note saying he killed himself so doctors can study his brain.  Like Seau, Duerson also shot himself in the chest.  Sau is the eighth affiliate of the 1994 Chargers team to die before age 45. The others are Chris Mims, David Griggs, Rodney Culver, Lew Bush, Doug Miller, Curtis Whitley and Shawn Lee.

This year, Duerson’s family sued the NFL for not doing enough to protect him and other players from concussions.

It doesn’t take a death to ignite a law suit either.  Last month, a group of former Dallas Cowboys including Hall of Famers Randy White, Bob Lilly and Rayfield Wright joined with other retired NFL players to file the latest concussion-related lawsuit against the NFL.

The players filed the suit, which includes 28 former players, in a Houston federal court alleging the league ignores the link between concussions and permanent brain injuries.

The Chicago Tribune reports that “not counting Duerson’s family, there are currently 657 retired players suing the league for concussion-related issues, according to a league source. A federal judge in Philadelphia had consolidated the 657 complaints into 18 lawsuits.”

If proved to be related, Seau’s death could have implications on children’s sports and may cause African Amerian and Hispanic parents to reconsider involving their children in contact sports too soon.

For the general population, we are increasingly seeing children saddled with injuries playing softball and baseball injuries. A  2010 study of 152 players aged 8 to 12 by Japanese researchers found that 25 percent complained of elbow pain. Of those, 68 percent had limited range of motion or tenderness of the elbow, while nearly 85 percent had osteochondral lesions, or a tear or fracture of the cartilage around the elbow.

While hockey and baseball injuries take a  massive toll on children, African Americans are more likely to enroll their children in sports like basketball and football.

Some, especially those in urban inner cities, get their children involved in sports early as a way out of bad situations.

However, are parents setting up their children for future problems by getting them in contact sports too soon? A 2010 Pediatrics  journal study revealed that of the  roughly half a million ER visits for concussions among 8 to 19 year olds between 2001 and 2005, about half were sports-related. And 40% were sports-related with children between the ages of 8 and 13.  Football and ice hockey were the organized sports with the most concussion injuries.

Certainly, there has been criticism of parents in these demographics who push their children towards the entertainment field, rap, singing and athletics as a ticket out of the hood.

And, perhaps, this tragic incident would lead to people to stop and consider the potentially long-term effects of excessive concussions.  Maybe people will begin considering other methods of escaping a tough life.

There’s always science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Here you have a field that’s not violent, just as useful and can guarantee careers for a long time.  Just a thought.

About the Author

Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt represents small, women, and minority owned business and technology companies at The Ghatt Law Group LLC, the nations’ first communications law firm owned by women and minorities. She's won landmark cases on behalf of her clients which include national civil rights and public interest organizations. In addition to actively authoring several blogs, being a radio show host and sitting on the boards of three non-profits, she is a tech junkie who has been developing online web content since the very early years of the Internet, 1991 to be precise! Follow her on Twitter at @Jenebaspeaks, on her blog, Jenebaspeaks, which covers the intersection of politics and technology or on her Politics of Raising Children blog at The Washington Times Communities section.



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  1. Maybe Junior Seau was depressed when he took his life. With his fame, money and good looks it is hard for us to see what he would be depressed about.
    It does seem reasonable that Junior’s depression came from the hundreds of concussion he sustained in his storied career. After all, when Dave Duerson took his own life he wanted his brain sent to the "NFL brain bank" for study.
    And like Junior, Duerson was black — as were two others last year with similar fate.
    Could it be then that concussions are more severe on the brains of our black athletes?
    Or is everyday life in our white man's world more severe on the psyche of our black athletes than we ever cared to wonder.

  2. Great article Jeneba! I agree totally!

  3. Wm_Tucker

    Race baiting, demagoguery, and junk science, all tied together in one sloppy op-ed!

    Weighing the risks of involving children — regardless of their race, ethnicity, or gender — in contact sports is a legitimate subject that can be discussed without citing tragedies where the connection is specious at best. However, injuries are a part of athletics — contact and non-contact. As adults, its our responsibility to strike a practical balance between safety and the risks inherent in sports. For example, boys enrolled in little league football are matched by age and size as a precaution against contact injuries. Other sports take similar precautions in addition to placing restrictions on practice times and the length of games.

    I won't contest the conventional wisdom about parents emphasizing celebrity and affluence over a work ethic other than to point out the error in singling out (or focusing on) African- and Latino-Americans. But I will vouch for athletics and the performing arts as valid, wholesome activities by which children can acquire the tools necessary for upward social mobility. Sports can certainly pave the way for a college education, and has definitely been instrumental in many 'minority' children becoming scientists, doctors, teachers, engineers, etc.

    • Jake

      To some degree I have to agree with Wm_Tucker. There are just as many, probably even more 'whites' in America that sign their kids up for sports at an early age. How often do we read stories about some white father going off at a game? This means that whites maybe pushing their kids even harder to excel.

      Its not a race thing.

  4. Great video G! It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid of NFL serapstur, identity is key to knowing yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. Everyone, no matter how big they are, go through identity crisis. If they’re not reaching out, I guess it’s upto all of us to reach out always to everyone we know?

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