Junior Seau’s Family Sues the NFL for Head Injuries
The family of deceased football player Junior Seau is filing a lawsuit against the NFL for wrongful death over head injuries the former San Diego Charger suffered during his career. The linebacker became an iconic figure in the 11 seasons he spent with the Chargers, later playing for the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. Seau was 43 when he committed suicide last summer, leaving behind no note or explanation.
Researchers who studied Seau’s brain found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative disease that has been found in a number of other athletes who have passed away. The disease is caused by concussions and other repeated head traumas and causes symptoms like memory loss, mood disorders, depression and early-onset dementia.
The lawsuit alleges that the NFL did not do enough to protect the star linebacker from head injuries, saying the league exacerbated “the health risk to players by promoting the game’s violence and lauding players for returning to play despite being rendered unconscious and/or disoriented due to their exposure to sub-concussion and concussive forces.”
The suit also names a helmet manufacturer for negligence in design and testing.
“We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE,” Seau’s family said in a statement. “While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon.”
Rash of Suicides
Seau is just one of a number of former gridiron stars who have taken their own lives in recent years, including Chicago Bear Dave Duerson, Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters and Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling. While Seau’s suit is filed individually in California for the time being, the NFL is facing an avalanche of some 190 other lawsuits consolidated in Philadelphia, naming 4,000 former players, living and dead, claiming that the league knew of the dangers of concussions but failed to warn players or act to protect them.
As knowledge of the consequences of head trauma becomes more widespread, even more alarming than the injuries suffered by adults are the ramifications for children. Some teenagers have even died from football-related concussions, and showed signs of already having developed CTE. President Obama in an interview this week wondered if the sport would need to change and become less violent. “I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football,” the president said.
Fans are confronted with the knowledge that their heroes might be playing themselves into an early demise. “NFL football is the most popular sport and we all enjoy the vicarious thrill of watching these guys do almost superhuman things,” says Thomas C. Doehrman, a personal injury attorney with the Law Offices of Doehrman Chamberlain, who specializes in traumatic brain injuries. “Now we’re starting to realize that football is such a violent sport that a lot of people like Junior Seau have lifelong, almost terrible consequences from playing.”
“What the president is saying is right on,” Doehrman says. “Guys in the NFL are adults and they’re making a lot of money. They make a decision and there’s at least more of a balance between the risk and benefit. High school, college, grade school? They learn how to play on a team spot, but there’s no inherent benefit to playing a violent sport.”
The wave of lawsuits filed against the NFL is forcing the league to confront head injuries, but it’s the grim fate of players like Seau that brings the risks more directly into the public eye. “I think society’s eventually going to have to wrestle with that issue, lawsuit or no lawsuit,” the attorney says. “If you’re a parent, do you want your child to have a potentially permanent injury from playing on the sixth grade football team?”
Other current NFL players, for the most part, have echoed the sentiment that they are free to make their own choice to participate in a violent sport. Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens, who is playing in the Super Bowl this weekend, said of his former colleague Seau, “He signed up for it.”
“Junior gave everything he had to football,” Reed said. “I’m sure he’s looking down and has no regrets.”