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Sydney 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.

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.

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    So tell me a little bit about what your memories are of your dad as a football player.

    As a football player?

    Yeah.

    In the stadiums, I was mostly just chowing down on cotton candy, so it's a little bit blurry. But I just remember him coming home late at night after workouts, just really tired, and he would always just put me to sleep and stuff like that. Nothing -- I don't remember much, because I was so little, but what I do remember is just having a ball with him. He was a big teddy bear that I got to play with every day. And he was like the biggest love I could have asked for. ...

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    Did you see him as a football star?

    No, of course not. No, he was just Dad. There was no football stardom. The first time I actually realized he was a big deal is when I brought him to show-and-tell in kindergarten. It was like "D is for," and I was, like, "Dad." So I brought him to show-and-tell and he came in. Everyone was making a huge deal and asking for his autograph. I'm like: "Why would you want this guy's autograph? I'm so confused."

    I never understood the concept of what fame was and what he actually did on a daily basis, because, to me, a stadium was just a stadium. That's where I got candy, and that's where Dad would come back home from. It wasn't a big deal to me until people started exposing what it really was.

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    That's interesting. And as you got older, could you go out with him without people -- I mean, what would happen?

    No. Honestly, it's like I have, like, another sense, like I know when people are watching me instantly, because when I'm with him, I could hear people whispering, I could see them trying to hide their phones and get that shot. Literally, Jake and I and Hunter and Tyler, we all make jokes, like we'll act like we don't know this guy, and we're like: "Oh, my God, do you know who that is over there? Do you know?" They're like, "Yeah, it's Junior Seau." I'm like, "Oh, my God, do you want me to go talk to him for you?" They're like, "Yeah, go ahead." I'm like, "OK." And then literally we'll just be like, "See you later." It's funny because we try to make a laughing matter out of it, but we just want privacy. And it's really hard.

    Obviously I'm so proud of him to have all this success, but growing up with everyone watching was kind of tough. I'm not going to lie. It was a little uneasy sometimes. ...

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    People have often talked about, when I read about him, people have often talked about just this sort of larger-than-life quality, this sort of light. But did you see -- did the emotions vacillate at all, or was he always just presenting a very positive front?

    Honestly, I see through his fronts most of the time, just because I don't play around when it comes to my dad. Like, he's my person. Like, out of everyone in this world, he's it.

    And there would be times where he would be off, just slightly. He would have to turn on that smile and turn on that face. I'm like: "What are you doing right now? Are you OK? You don't have to be 100 percent all the time. I'm your daughter. I'm not a reporter; I'm not someone you have to act with. Just chill for a second. Are you OK?"

    And sometimes he would never fully answer my questions. He would never let me completely in, because he was the backbone, he was that strength that I had to look up to, and he didn't want to break in front of his little girl, obviously.

    So what would he say?

    He would just shake it off and be like: "Syd, like, come on, Beau. Everything's fine. Why would you think anything different? We have a great life." He would just present the positive, or he would just completely ignore the fact that I caught onto something, and he would just go on to something else. I would obviously notice, but because he was ignoring it, I didn't want to keep bringing it up and just beating a dead horse, so I would just go along.

    And this is during the last few years of his life?

    Yeah, for sure.

  5. Ψ ShareAn early warning sign

    So is there a point where you began to see these changes in him? Is there a point where you began to think something is different, something is going on with Dad?

    Yes. I would have to say the past two years have been the roughest. I've always had to -- and I wouldn't say put in a lot of effort to see him, but I would always be the one to call him or text him. And over the years he's always been the first to get me flowers for Valentine's Day or send me a text, like, "Syd, I love you," and everything like that.

    And for a couple of months at a time, I wouldn't hear from him at all. And that would scare me, because obviously, what else are you doing? If you aren't talking to me, who are you talking to, because I know I'm one of your first contacts. So that would scare me. And I would be like, "So what are you doing today? Do you want to hang out? Let's break bread." He would always say like, "Let's break bread," and I'd be like, "OK, let's get Jamba Juice for a couple of minutes, just a small amount of time."

    Those meetings really cut down the last two years, and we became really distant, and I had to step up my game and be in his face and actually be like: "You can't run away from me, ever. That's not going to happen. I love you to the moon and back, and I'm going to be here for you."

    And he would just -- it's like he didn't feel it. I would feel so much for him, and I would put so much energy in, and he would just look back at me, and he wouldn't connect. And I never understood what it was. But the last two years have been really hard.

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    Was it a sort of -- was the look a vacant look? Is there a way to describe it?

    I wouldn't say -- I wouldn't feel like it wasn't completely vacant. It's just that it was more like he wouldn't acknowledge it. He wasn't acknowledging the fact that something was wrong. He would feel something, but he wouldn't be able to express what he felt. And because he couldn't express what he felt, I couldn't help, and no one else could, either. ...

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    And when you say you had to step up your game, what did that mean for you? What did you do?

    Call him all the time, text him all the time, be the one -- I just wanted to be that figure. I told him, "You don't have to be the adult in the situation. It's totally fine. I'm cool with it. We'll just roll with it, and I'll be the one holding your hand and asking to hang out, because I don't take it personally anymore." Because I just thought he's so busy and he has so much on his plate right now, maybe he does need a little bit more of a push, and I can be that push for him, and I won't take it personally anymore.

    Because for a time, I went into just backing-off mode, where I would just be like: "OK, if you don't want to see me, if you don't want to see your own daughter, then fine, you won't. I'm not going to see you." But I just grew past that, because the thing is, it doesn't just hurt him; it hurts me, too. So I'm not going to be the one that said I didn't try hard enough.

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    When was that period where you backed off?

    My junior year I backed off, which was, what, two years ago now? And then my senior year, he missed basically my whole varsity season, and I had to write a paper, and I had to write about a parent, and I wrote about him, and then right after that paper was written, I was like, "OK, we're meeting and we're talking about this, right here, right now." And I drove over to his house, and I just told him everything -- exactly how I was feeling, what was going on, and how I wasn't going to take a back seat anymore, because I was sick of waiting, and I wasn't going to be that girl anymore.

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    That's pretty courageous. Where did you get the nerve to -- I mean, did you need any prompting or pushing to do that?

    No. When you love someone, you'll do anything for them, even if it means hurting yourself. It hurt me to have to pull so much. No daughter wants to pull to see -- sorry.

    You don't have to apologize.

    It was just hard, because I wanted him to want me more than anything, but my whole life was to make him proud and to make him want to see me. And after my senior year, it all came full force, that I was leaving for college, and if I didn't have a relationship, a real relationship, I wouldn't see him. It's a big reason why I chose to go to USC, because that's his second home, and I could share that with him, and I would have a life with him that I didn't have. ...

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    After you sort of got in his face, did anything change?

    I wish I could say it did, because it definitely didn't. That's what hurt even worse. But I thought that it would give him a wake-up call. I thought that me being so in his face, being so confrontational and just bold, really, I thought that would give him a wake-up call to where he'd be like, "OK, I know how you feel, and let's grow from this. Let's build that relationship that you've always wanted." And instead he kind of went off the radar again.

    After his first accident, he went completely off the radar, after he was here for so long, and I thought that that was going to be his, like, a-ha moment where, like, “Oh, family comes first.” Like, “These people actually love me. This is where I’m supposed to be.” I thought that would be it. And then when I actually told him how I felt for so many years I thought that would be it. And it didn’t happen

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    So the accident happened before you confronted him. So the accident happened, and then you're saying when he was staying here with you guys for a couple of days --

    That was my first time I really said: "I love you, can't live without you. You can't do that ever again." And he really -- he reacted, which was great, because when I confronted him the second time, he just looked in a straight line and cried and didn't hug me, didn't say a word. He just stood, he just sat on the couch, and that's what really bothered me, because I was like, how can I express all this emotion and you just cry and not even want to console me? That's not normal. And he just told me that he had never really, truly felt love. And I was like, "What does that mean?"

    But it didn't change. He was still really distant, and I didn't understand.

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    When the first accident happened, you said you told him at that point when he was here at the house, and you said that he reacted. How did he react?

    He just held me, and he was like: "I would never do this to you intentionally. I love you. There's no comparison to us in our relationship, and you don't have to worry about anything." And I felt comforted. Obviously, I felt like, OK, he's responding. He's actually acknowledging how I feel. This is good.

    Then, the next thing I know, he's in Vegas, and he's with his friends. He's not even hanging out with us anymore. That was just a pretty big blow.

    How did you hear he was in Vegas?

    TMZ.

    Oh, you saw it on TMZ?

    Yep.

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    Did you, when the crash happened, and you talked to him about that afterward, were you wondering -- I mean, did you think it was an accident? Was that the conversation you were having with him? Were you trying to find out if it was?

    No, I wasn't trying to find out anything, honestly. I was just concerned about him and his state of mind, like, "Are you OK? Will you get past this?" I never asked what happened, because he, even after the accident, he would be like, "Oh, yeah, buddy, can't drive the car, might go over a cliff," like as a joke. I'm like: "That's not funny. Who's laughing? That's not funny." And he would just pass it along as if it was nothing, and that definitely triggered something in me where I'm like: "Why are you joking around about something that could have potentially killed you?" Why? That's not something you lightly toss around.

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    Others on this topic:
    Life After Football

    You know, we've asked everybody, what about his memory? What kinds of things did you start to see? Anything you noticed about his memory?

    Yes. I've always known him as being irresponsible with his keys and phone. It's kind of a joke, because I kind of take after him in that sort. But he never knows where his stuff is, and I thought it was because he's always had so many people around him where he would be reminded and he doesn't really need to have that responsibility for his things, but after a while it's kind of like: "Really? You just left everything in a restaurant and I picked it up for you, and kept it, and you didn't notice it was gone until I showed it to you? Why? What's going on?"

    Literally, one big thing that I remember was my brother Jake had a lacrosse game at Torrey Pines, and I told him that day that he had to be there at a particular time, and my mom's like: "He's not going to come. He's not going to come." I'm like: "He's coming; he's going to be here. Don't worry." Like, I'll show you; he's actually going to get here on time.

    And I text him 20 minutes beforehand, I'm like: "Where are you? They're warming up right now." He's like, "What are you talking about?" And I'm like, "Jake's game." He was like, "I thought that's tomorrow." And I'm like: "No, I called you this morning. We talked about this. You need to be here. Get here now." And he obviously, like, got there as soon as he could, and he made it before the first half and everything.

    But it just was like, "Come on, I know you're not that irresponsible. I know we actually acknowledged the fact that you were supposed to be here." Because with him, you always have to repeat things, especially in the last, like, five years. You would have to repeat something like you're explaining it to a 4-year-old. Maybe five times would be the charm. You don't really know. But I'm the type of person where, like, I'll do it, because I'm just used to it. I'll just be like: "Hey, be here. Oh, wait, pick me up. Pick me up." Ten minutes beforehand: "Are you close?" And then he would be like, "Yeah, yeah, I'm doing it; I'm here, I'm here."

    Because he used to be so punctual and so on top of everything that it slowly got really bad, really -- I wouldn't even say slowly. Like, quickly it got bad. And it just stayed bad, where his memory was just not there. ...

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    Others on this topic:
    Life After Football

    … The times that you were able to spend with him over the last few years, did you, you know, in addition to the sort of changes you talked about, what, if anything, did you notice about him physically and the sort of toll that football had taken on him? Anything?

    Physically? Well, did you ever see his hands, first off?

    No.

    His hands were disgusting. They were just, like, every single knuckle is basically like 10 times the size, like so gross. I don’t even know how he played the uke, with those huge hands. I don’t know, he could surf and he could obviously work out, but he was getting slower.

    And it was difficult to see, because I think Jake and my mom always bet him that when Jake turned 16 he would beat my Dad in a 40-yard-dash. And I actually don’t know if he would have beat him, because he was just gaining more weight and kind of letting himself go. And it was weird for me to see, because he’s always the one at like 5 o’clock, like, “Let’s go on a run, like we’re going on a run.” And he kind of went off of that, off of his routine that was basically his lifestyle. I would say, yeah, he definitely changed.

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    Did he start to have periods of anger?

    Never toward me. He can't get angry with me. He was never able to be mad at me for more than two seconds, because I would get mad at him, and then he would be like, "Oh, fine," like he would just back off. Maybe toward my brothers. I feel like he had a lot more -- he had anger built inside, but I would never see it, because I was his little girl. He's never laid a hand on me. He never did.

    And I think there are moments where he would snap, but it would be very brief. It would just be out of nowhere, he would just be like, "Why didn't you tell me that beforehand?," or like, "Why didn't you do this when I told you to?" And I'd be like: "Whoa, this is like a minor thing, and you're yelling at me? This doesn't make sense. Calm down." And he'd be like, "OK," [and] he would just let it go.

    But there were times where I'd be like, "I don't understand."

    What kinds of things was he reacting to?

    It was just really small things. If I would forget, if I gave him the wrong directions or we took a wrong turn, he'd be like, "Why didn't you tell me that before?," like really direct. And I'm not used to him confronting me like that, so I'd be like, "Whoa, I'm sorry." And then he would actually understand that what he said was a little bit more sharp than it should have come out, and he'd be like: "Oh, I'm sorry. That's not what I meant. Just know better next time." And I'd be like, "OK."

    It was really minor, nothing big. I never made huge mistakes that he would go on rants about. I have never had a screaming match with him, ever. But there were just little things and little problems that would go wrong, and it would just set him off for a really brief amount of time. But I have never truly seen him angry. ...

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    Others on this topic:
    Junior Seau's Suicide
    Her last memories of her father

    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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    Others on this topic:
    Junior Seau's Suicide

    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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    Others on this topic:
    Junior Seau's Suicide
    The day of the suicide

    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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    Others on this topic:
    Junior Seau's Suicide

    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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    Others on this topic:
    Junior Seau's Suicide

    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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    When was it first broached with you? Was it Tyler who told you, “Look, this is what’s going on.” Or was it your mom? Or how did that even –

    It was my mom and Tyler. I think it might’ve been Tyler first, because he was approached. Yeah, he just told me, “This is what’s going to happen, and, like, if you want to do it, let’s just all talk about it as a family. And if this is what we want, then let’s go for it.” And I was fine with it.

  23. Ψ Share
    Others on this topic:
    CTE: Discovery of a New DiseaseJunior Seau's Suicide
    Learning that her father had CTE

    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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    Others on this topic:
    Would You Let Your Kids Play Football?

    Now, I wonder how you feel about football now, as you reflect on it. It was obviously a huge part of your family, but now there's this diagnosis that suggests that it at least might have had something to do with the decisions your dad made. I wonder how you view the sport now.

    Football will always be in my life. I'm not going to lie. I still love the sport. I just think there can be some sort of just small, minuscule changes that can help protect the players, because I'm still going to go watch football games. I'm still going to support whoever wants to play the sport, because I love it, too. It's been in my life forever, and I'm not going to just give that up. And it was a huge love of his life, too, and it made him who he was. So I'm not going to say, "Oh, football, no, that's not part of me." No. It is part of me, and it will always be.

    So I still fully support people watching football and people playing football. I just think that there are some things that need to change, and there's just a sense of awareness that needs to be given to the public. And I feel like that can help so many more people than we think.

  25. Ψ ShareA final text message from her dad

    You got a message the night before your dad passed. Tell me about that.

    He always texted me that he loved me, so it wasn't anything new. It was weird; I had no idea he knew how to send a group message. That was what actually came to mind. I was like: "What, you know how to work your phone? That's so weird. Like, you never know how to do anything. How did you learn this?" It was just like any other, like, "I love you," because that's something that I would hear from him every time I saw him. There was never a goodbye without an "I love you" attached.

    So when I saw that, I was like: "OK, Dad, sure. Love you, too." It wasn't big until it was the last text message I received, until I knew.

    Do you still have it?

    Of course. I'm not going to get rid of anything that he's given me, in my phone, in paper, nothing. Everything is precious now.

    Will you show it to us? Is that too much to ask?

    Oh, yeah.

    So that's to Dad, Jake, Ty, and then two more. One is you, I assume --

    And Mom.

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