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Junior Seau tragedy shakes NFL, intensifies concern about head injuries

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His death is the latest of several NFL veteran suicides in recent years. In February 2011, ex-defensive back Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest, leaving a note requesting that his brain be donated to the Boston University School of Medicine for research. Those who conducted the examinations said head injuries he had sustained during his time in the NFL resulted in significant, long-term brain damage. Just last month, retired safety Ray Easterling committed suicide, amid reports that he had experienced depression, insomnia, and memory loss toward the end of his life. Easterling was a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by a large group of former players against the NFL for failing to protect them from head injuries. Nearly 1,000 ex-NFL players have been named as plaintiffs in such suits against the league.

Seau’s end, though, hits the NFL especially hard, according to Mike Tanier, staff writer of Football Outsiders. A definite future Hall of Famer, Seau was one of the best defenders ever to play the game, and he capped off his two-decade playing career very recently, in 2009.

“This one is going to be more real to recent players,” Mr. Tanier says. “I hope this reaffirms that the tough-guy rhetoric needs to be gone. This is about something dangerous. These things should change the culture, and the conduct on the field.”

During his playing days, Seau was never sidelined for a head injury. But family and friends have stated that he sustained multiple concussions during his career. "Of course he had,” ex-wife Gina Seau told ESPN. “He always bounced back and kept on playing, He's a warrior. That didn't stop him. I don't know what football player hasn't. It's not ballet. It's part of the game."

According to Tanier, it’s a part of the game that was all but ignored until recently. “The change in the concussion mentality occurred in the last few years, across sports,” he says. “[Seau’s] glory days were 1992 to 2000. A player in the '90s who took time off for concussions was going to get criticism from teammates, coaches, owners, fans, talk radio.” 

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