Junior Seau's Suicide

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    Sydney Seau   Daughter of Junior Seau

    Sydney Seau is the daughter of legendary linebacker Junior Seau, whose 2012 suicide shocked the sports world. Seau says football changed her dad, leaving him forgetful, distant and prone to fits of anger. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with League of Denial author Mark Fainaru-Wada on Feb. 15, 2013.

    I want to ask you now a little bit about the days surrounding your dad's passing. What do you remember about the last time you were with him?

    OK, the last time I was with him was actually at my spring preview, which is where he did spring training with the football team at USC. So the last time I was with him was at my now-college, which is great; I have that memory with him.

    But the last phone call I had with him was the weekend before. I thought he was fine, but obviously he wasn't. I was actually supposed to -- I was on the verge of, like, moving in with him, but I didn't, and I regret that.

    You were going to, like, before you headed out to USC, you were going to move in with him?

    Yeah, I just wanted a change. I love this house, and I love my family, but I wanted to get close to him, and I wanted to have a relationship, a real relationship with him before I went to college, and I was on the verge of moving in with him a couple of weeks before his passing. And then that happened.

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    Sydney Seau   Daughter of Junior Seau

    Sydney Seau is the daughter of legendary linebacker Junior Seau, whose 2012 suicide shocked the sports world. Seau says football changed her dad, leaving him forgetful, distant and prone to fits of anger. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with League of Denial author Mark Fainaru-Wada on Feb. 15, 2013.

    When you had that talk with him a few days before, you said?

    Yeah.

    Do you remember anything about the conversation?

    Yeah. I was about to go to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista for my first beach volleyball tryout. I was a nervous wreck because I had never touched a sand volleyball before, and they expected me to compete with the best around the country and go to this tryout, because my coach was making me do this. She was like, "All right, we're just going to put you in there, and you're going to go." And I was like, "OK, yeah, I could do that, uh-huh, totally."

    And I called him, a nervous wreck, just crying my eyes out, like, "I can't do this; I'm not comfortable," all this stuff. And he was just kind of consoling me, and he was fine.

    But the conversation didn't end as well as I thought it would. Usually he gives more, like, words of advice, and he's just more present. But for some reason, I left that conversation feeling like he was there, but like in a weird way, like it didn't feel right. And I was like, "OK, why were you so distant?" And then I called him again, and it was the shortest phone call ever, and he was like: "I just have -- I have to do something. I'll call you back later." I was like: "OK. Bye. I love you." And he was like, "Love you, too." There was no emotion. Like, I was just really confused. And that was the last time I talked to him.

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    Sydney Seau   Daughter of Junior Seau

    Sydney Seau is the daughter of legendary linebacker Junior Seau, whose 2012 suicide shocked the sports world. Seau says football changed her dad, leaving him forgetful, distant and prone to fits of anger. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with League of Denial author Mark Fainaru-Wada on Feb. 15, 2013.

    So how does it play out for you? ...

    Well, it's funny, because most people say that when they think back to when something like that happens, when a family member passes away, they don't remember anything. It's blurry, it's hazy, something like that. I remember everything. I remember the exact scene. I was studying for a math quiz, and I got a call from Jake. He was just like, "Just call Mom." I was like, "Oh." I remember exactly what I was wearing. I remember every teacher that came up to me and tried to console me. I remember breaking down and what friends I talked to. It's ridiculous the amount of vivid images I have in my head of that day, and I wish every day that it could be blurry and it was just hazed over and it wasn't there.

    But it's like you're feeling everything, but you're numb. And I know everyone says, "You're just numb; you can't feel anything." But it was by far the worst day of my life, so of course I remember everything.

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    Sydney Seau   Daughter of Junior Seau

    Sydney Seau is the daughter of legendary linebacker Junior Seau, whose 2012 suicide shocked the sports world. Seau says football changed her dad, leaving him forgetful, distant and prone to fits of anger. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with League of Denial author Mark Fainaru-Wada on Feb. 15, 2013.

    Your mom is the one who told you? Were you on the phone with your mom and she told you?

    Yeah. I thought she was going to tell me something happened to my grandma, and I was preparing for that. I was in an office. I think it was on the news, because people were acting kind of weird toward me. My teachers were like, "I think you need to just sit down." I'm like: "Why would I need to sit down? I have to take a math quiz in 10 minutes. What's going on?"

    And then she called me, and she was crying her eyes out, and I'm like: "Do you want me to just come home? Do you want me to just come home?" She's like: "No -- yeah, just come home. Come home." "Well, actually, no, just tell me now. Why would I wait 30 minutes? Just tell me right now."

    And she's like, "Something happened." I'm like, "To my grandma?" She's like, "No." And I'm like, "OK, then what?" And she's like, "It's your dad." I'm like: "All right, let's go to the hospital. Can I see him? Is he at the same hospital as last time, at Scripps? Can I go now?" And she was like -- she said he was shot, and that's when I freaked out. I just hung up and just ran and tried to find some of my friends, because I thought someone had shot him, and that was not OK. And then I found out later that he had done it himself, and that was the hardest pill to swallow for sure, because I don't know, I didn't see that coming. No one did.

    Did anyone know he had a gun?

    No. No, of course not. I would have never expected him to have anything like that. Like, you're a football player. Why do you need a gun? No one's going to -- like, who's not intimidated by you? It was something no one saw coming. There's just no words.

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    Sydney Seau   Daughter of Junior Seau

    Sydney Seau is the daughter of legendary linebacker Junior Seau, whose 2012 suicide shocked the sports world. Seau says football changed her dad, leaving him forgetful, distant and prone to fits of anger. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with League of Denial author Mark Fainaru-Wada on Feb. 15, 2013.

    As you guys are trying to make sense of obviously this completely nonsensical situation, you then also have to begin to deal with this concept that somebody wants to study your father's brain.

    Right.

    So what's the point for you where you remember learning that that's suddenly part of the discussion?

    Well, when people started talking about how he shot himself in the heart instead of the brain, I didn't even think about it in that way. I was like: "He's gone. What's the difference? Where's the symbolism coming from? Why are people talking so much about this?" And when people started talking to me about studying his brain, I was like, "Why would you want to do that?" Obviously I never thought of a disease in this equation. I never thought it was a factor until people started talking about it. ...

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    Related topics:
    CTE: Discovery of a New Disease

    Sydney Seau   Daughter of Junior Seau

    Sydney Seau is the daughter of legendary linebacker Junior Seau, whose 2012 suicide shocked the sports world. Seau says football changed her dad, leaving him forgetful, distant and prone to fits of anger. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with League of Denial author Mark Fainaru-Wada on Feb. 15, 2013.

    When you guys got the results back and found out that he had CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], what was your reaction to that?

    Honestly I hoped there would be some sort of relief or comfort knowing that it wasn't just him; there was something going on that we couldn't control, and he couldn't control. It wasn't just him taking, I won't say selfishly, but him taking his own life. There was other factors.

    But honestly, nothing changed. Yes, good could come out of studying CTE, and I think it could go so far, but in my life, personally, what is it really going to do? It's not going to bring him back. But in the back of my head I was like, "OK, this can help some part of me, knowing that it wasn't all him."

    And there are other people out there that may have it. And if this research goes well, we can protect other fathers on the field and we can protect these people. They're not just players, they're not just jerseys; they're people. So obviously, that was the second thing that came into mind.

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    Steve Young   Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (1987-99)

    Steve Young played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and suffered seven concussions before retiring in 1999. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Young told FRONTLINE he worries about the toll that routine head hits are taking on linemen and running backs. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Jim Gilmore on March 27, 2013.

    Junior Seau dies. What's your thoughts?

    He was a very good friend, and you just -- you're just shocked. I immediately called all the guys that I know that knew him better than I did, and they were shocked. It's just like trying to -- you try to figure it out. What's going on in his life? What was happening? We want explanations. ... You don't know the demons people deal with, and you just have no idea.

    But I remember saying to myself -- what my emotional state was the next few days was, "I want to call all my friends that I played with for a long time and say: 'Look me in the eye. Is everything all right?,'" because that's what you don't want. Whatever happened, you don't want it to happen to anybody else, whatever it is. So it was highly emotional.

    If part of it is this whole CTE, then we're going to as a group of guys, we want to try to figure it out and help people figure it out, because there's players that are now in their 14th year and 15th year playing football and love football -- I mean, love it in a way that appreciates it for the incredible tool it is. I always think it's the greatest laboratory for human condition. If you pay attention, there is amazing stuff going on that you can't -- as a laboratory guy, you're like: "I can't get this situation again to see how people react. I can't see." You can learn a ton. I just think there is a lot of love for the game that people are going to want to try to help figure this out.

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    Harry Carson   Linebacker, New York Giants (1976-88)

    Harry Carson is a Hall of Fame linebacker who played for the New York Giants from 1976-1988. Here, he discusses why he regrets ever having played football. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted with FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on Sept. 4, 2013.

    Jesus, when you think about the list in this film, Webster, [Terry] Long, Andre Waters, Tom McHale, you go down the list of people, dignity and their death don't belong in the same sentence.

    Dave Duerson, yeah. You know, those guys -- obviously that could have been me. That could have been me, because I felt the way that they felt. You know, it's strange. A couple of years ago, when Green Bay won the championship, I was invited to Green Bay when they played New Orleans, the opening game, and Junior Seau was there representing the San Diego Chargers. We chose to leave the game and go back to the hotel in Appleton before -- we just didn't want to stay and watch the entire game. So I rode back with Junior, and we were in the car, and we were talking, just talking football, just talking in general. When he committed suicide, I had guys in the media call, and they asked me how I felt about it. And I said I'm not surprised. While we didn't talk football, we didn't talk about his issues with concussions. I was not surprised, because I think that when a player is dealing with inner turmoil, oftentimes he won't share that information with anyone else. He keeps it to himself.

    When I was dealing with my issues, you don't share it; you keep it to yourself. As football players, you're trained. It's part of the culture of football. You're trained to keep things to yourself. So whatever Junior was going through, he kept it to himself, and he took matters into his own hands.

    But you could tell somehow?

    I couldn't really tell at that time. If I had known that there was something going on with him, I would have taken him and said: "Junior, whatever you're dealing with, it's manageable. You can live with it. You don't have to take that ultimate step." And you know, when I look at some of these other guys who are having issues who are in the news, I just want to tell them, "Whatever you're going through, it's manageable." ...

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    Chris Nowinski   Co-director, BU Center for the Study of Chronic Encephalopathy

    A Harvard football player turned professional wrestler, Nowinski’s experience following a debilitating concussion led him to found the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to research and education around head injuries. He spoke to FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on June 12, 2013.

    Then along comes Junior Seau. Tell me about Junior, why he matters, why it mattered in terms of this particular story. ...

    The Junior Seau case was important because Junior Seau was so beloved by the football world, and because he was such a great player, and he played for so long. I mean, everybody loved Junior Seau, and he seemed on the field to be invincible. I met Junior Seau, and he was a very charming guy.

    I think the biggest thing was just that he was so good and so many people liked him. It was an opportunity to say for a lot of people, if this can happen to Junior Seau, well, then jeez, this could happen to anybody. ...

    Why didn't you guys get Junior's brain?

    Well, we didn't get Junior's brain because the family decided to give it to NIH.

    There's a whole lot of stories around the whole controversy of how it got to NIH. ... Take me there, from your perspective. Why would you want Junior's brain? And what happened? Why didn't you get it, from what you know?

    Well, we wanted Junior's brain because we pursue every case of a former NFL player passing away. We firmly recognize that no single case is going to change anything in any significant way, so we knew it was our responsibility to attempt to get it, but we weren't going to go to any more effort than we do for any other case. We weren't going to push any harder; we weren't going to fly across the country and beg the family. That would be inappropriate.

    I spent time making calls. We had a lot of mutual friends. Spoke to people at his foundation and just said, "Like every other case, we would like to review this case, if you want." Never made the ask directly to the family because they had people representing them, but yeah, we asked. ...

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    Dr. Bennet Omalu   Forensic pathologist who discovered CTE

    A forensic pathologist, Omalu conducted the autopsy of Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, which led to his discovery of a new disease that he named chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. He is currently the chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, Calif. and a professor in the UC Davis Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. He spoke to FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk on March 25, 2013.

    As a last question, the Seau case. Why did you want Junior's brain? Why did -- I guess Boston wanted Junior's brain? Why did the NIH [National Institutes of Health] get Junior's brain? Not about the politics of it, but why the interest in Junior's brain? ...

    When Junior Seau died, just like every other case, people called me. I don't follow football, so I said, "Who is Junior Seau?" They said, "Oh, you don't..." -- just like Mike Webster -- "You don't know Junior Seau?" I'm like, "How do I?" They said, "Oh, he's even bigger than Mike Webster." They said: "Oh, he just died. He committed suicide."

    OK, just like I always do, I called a colleague of mine. That colleague of mine introduced me to the medical examiner in San Diego. I spoke to the medical examiner. The medical examiner spoke to the family. Finally connected me to his son. We did everything -- spoke to the son; he gave us verbal consent.

    And the medical examiner requested that I come down. They've never had such a big case before -- I'm an expert in this field, to help him. So by 3 a.m. I was driving to San Francisco to board a flight. I got to San Diego by around 6:30 a.m. I went to the office. I assisted at the autopsy. I took out the brain, processed the brain, did everything.

    Then I packaged the brain. I was about leaving for the airport. But the son called and was saying all types of very ugly things about me, very ugly. ... Initially I was extremely offended at, "Look at all I've suffered for players, and look at what a player's son is telling me." That was one of the reasons I said I wish I never got involved in it. So the next thing he said, he doesn't want me touching his father's brain.

    I was very demoralized. I remember that there was -- people didn't notice when I got into the cab I was crying. I'm like, "What have I done?"...

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