The family of Junior Seau, whose death was ruled a suicide, will grant permission for researchers studying the effects of concussions and repeated hits to the head to study the retired linebacker’s brain.
“The family was considering this almost from the beginning, but they didn’t want to make any emotional decisions,” Shawn Mitchell, the San Diego Chargers’ team chaplain, told the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer. “And when they came to a joint decision that absolutely this was the best thing, it was a natural occurrence for the Seau family to go forward.”
The San Diego County medical examiner ruled Thursday that Seau, 43, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest on Wednesday. Police indicated that he left no note.
The family has not yet decided which of the competing research facilities will study Seau’s brain, although ESPN reported that Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who first identified chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the deaths of some former NFL players, participated in Seau’s autopsy. Omalu is the chief medical officer for San Joaquin County (Calif.).
In addition, Omalu and Julian Bailes, a neurosurgeon who formerly was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team physician, founded the Brain Injury Research Institute and ESPN reports that their organization is seeking permission to study Seau’s brain.
So, too, is the Sports Legacy Institute at Boston University. A partner of BU’s School of Medicine and Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, it has studied the brains of many deceased former athletes, including that of Dave Duerson. He also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest and had requested that his brain be donated to BU for study. Researchers found that he suffered from a degenerative disease linked to concussions and subsequent depression. Officials would not confirm Sports Illustrated’s report that it was seeking access to Seau’s brain.
Seau’s brain remains with the San Diego medical examiner, ESPN reports, and is not expected to be buried with his body. Whether Seau suffered from CTE is not expected to be known for 4-6 weeks.
Although Gina Seau, who was divorced from Seau in 2002, said that he had suffered concussions, she said she did not know if they contributed to his death. Taylor Twellman, a former Major League Soccer player who was a neighbor of Seau’s and now is an ESPN analyst, told the network that Seau had told him in 2008 that he had headaches from multiple concussions suffered over the course of his 20-year NFL career.
In a conversation with SI’s Jim Trotter in March, Seau spoken generally of the issues that retired football players face and said that “the game needs to change.”
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