The subheadline of the article is simple, direct and to the point. It reads: “Within two years of retiring, three out of four NFL
players will be one or more of the following: alcohol or drug addicted;
divorced; or financially distressed/bankrupt. Junior Seau was all three.”
On Monday, the San Diego Union-Tribune released a lengthy reported article on the life and death of former Chargers and Patriots linebacker Seau, written by Jill Lieber Steeg. The piece, entitled “Junior Seau: Song of Sorrow” paints a portrait of the former player leading up to his suicide that is troubling to say the least, and is in stark contrast to the public perception of Seau as friendly and boisterous.
Large parts of the article focus on Seau’s childhood and rise to prominence in the NFL, but it’s the parts leading up to his suicide that are the most memorable.
“His public persona was up here and his personal persona was down here,” said ex-Chargers kicker Rolf Benirschke. “He was a soul that struggled.”
Specifically, the article names signs of depression, daily physical pain, insomnia, prescription drug abuse and personal problems as being characteristic of retired NFL players, a trope that Seau easily fell into. A portrait of Seau as a Jekyll and Hyde type character — riding extreme emotional highs and lows — emerges through a series of interviews and reported facts.
To quote the article:
Unable to sleep more than three
or four hours a night dating to his first years with Chargers in the
early to mid-1990s, Seau often relied on a variety of prescription and
nonprescription sleeping aids, including zolpidem, which belongs to a
class of medications called sedation-hypnotics with the brand name
Ambien. Gina said Seau used Ambien, Nyquil and antihistamines to sleep.
He never was medically treated for his inability to sleep or his
to the autopsy and toxicology reports released Aug. 20 by the San Diego
County Medical Examiner’s Office, zolpidem was found in Seau’s system
(0.14 mg/liter) and in a prescription bottle (10 mg) in his Oceanside
home. Zolpidem/Ambien should be used with caution in patients who have
depression. According to RxList.com, depressed patients have reported a
worsening of the symptoms of depression, which includes suicidal
thoughts and actions. In addition, patients using zolpidem/Ambien should
not consume alcohol — it can increase the effects of the drug on the
body, worsening its effects on thinking and behavior.
man who was considered to be Superman, strong, powerful and larger than
life, both on and off the field, was gripped by so much panic and
anxiety that he was afraid to ever be by himself, especially at night.
He was never treated for panic or anxiety disorders.
Many parts of the article are eerily similar to a massive three-part New York Times piece, released in December 2011, which profiled former NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died of an overdose in May of that year. Much of the suffering of the two athletes leading up to their untimely deaths bear much in common: the substance abuse, mood swings, and constant pain — particularly in the hands.
Unlike Boogaard, however, testing of Seau’s brain remained inconclusive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease which can only be diagnosed postmortem.