Junior Seau was a great football player - one of the best of his generation. But his impact on the game went much further than that. Unlike some others blessed with unnatural talent, Seau played with a joy, a passion, and an intensity that raised the level of all around him, whether they were teammate or opponent. It's a cliche, but it is also accurate to say that Junior Seau played the game the way it was meant to be played.
And Seau was much more than that. He was a genuine hero to an entire community, an entire city - and not just because of his exploits on the field. Like those he played with and battled on the field, Seau enriched the lives of those in his community. Again, a cliche - but he served as a role model for everyone in sports. A role model for how to interact with fans. A role model for how to work with the community in which you work and live. A role model for how to give back to those less fortunate than you.
And now, Junior Seau is dead at 43, apparently by his own hand. It's hard to imagine a greater tragedy, at least in the world of sports.
There are many difficult questions to ponder about Seau's death, many of which can't be answered right now - or perhaps ever. But as Andy Staples wrote today on SI.Com, we have reached a point where football no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt. Men who have played football, some of the greatest players we have had the opportunity to watch and cheer, are dying before their time. Some of natural causes, well before their time, because of the punishment they took on the field. Others, like Dave Duerson and now Seau, by their own hand. It is time to have a frank and open discussion about what is happening.
It is eerie that Seau's death occurred on the very day that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down suspensions - harsh suspensions - on some of the New Orleans Saints players who were demonstrated to have participated in the bounty scandal. On the one hand, it wiped that story right off of the front page of the sports section - but on the other, it accentuated the importance of that story. Because the NFL Players Association, which not surprisingly immediately announced their intention to defend those who were suspended, now faces the ultimate test on whether they truly care about the welfare of their members.
For the sake of discussion, let's assume that football played a role in the mindset that led Seau to take his own life. Also, let's consider the number of players who have joined in lawsuits against the NFL for the injuries they have incurred over the course of their careers - many of them great players, Hall of Fame players. If the Players Association is really sincere about the working conditions of its members, then how in good conscience - especially in the light of Junior Seau's death - can they defend players who went out of their way to harm others, well beyond the requirements of the game? So a death that seems meaningless today may have enormous meaning over time.
But for now, let's celebrate the accomplishments of one of the great ones. Let's feel sympathy for those who loved him as a player and a person. Let's think of his family and loved ones.