It’s impossible to know at this point what will be the long-term impact of the suicide last week of Junior Seau on professional football, but players and former players have continued to speak of their fears and increased awareness since his death Wednesday.
While Seau’s family reportedly is reconsidering its decision whether to allow researchers to study his brain, Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher talked of the need for mandatory counseling. Former quarterback Kurt Warner spoke of concerns if his sons were to play the sport. Brandon Marshall wrote an op-ed piece in the Chicago Sun-Times about counseling and mental health.
“I'm still in disbelief,” Fletcher told SI’s Peter King. “Still having a hard time with it. I've thought about him every day. And I think about what I'm going to be like at his age, 43, and how I'll be coping with life after football. I keep going over and over it. What am I going to be like several years down the road? I'm definitely concerned with quality of life after football. This makes me a little more scared about it.”
Although no one knows yet why Seau chose to end his life, Fletcher pointed out that football players tend to bull their way through injuries and problems — and thinks that must change whether guys like it or not.
“You take the decision out of guys' hands,” Fletcher said, “and that way, maybe some of them will be helped. If players have to go seek counseling on their own, lots of guys won't do that. Men in general, we're wired to hold things inside. It's not manly to be vulnerable and ask for help. For me, now, I can tell you I'm going to seek help if I feel I need it. That's what Junior's death has taught me.”
Fletcher, who is entering his 15th NFL season and has not missed a game since 1998, says Seau’s suicide had “spooked” his wife and family. “I had a cousin call me right away and say, ‘I'm here if you ever want to talk.’ The good thing about this, I think, is that many players around the league are having family members reach out to them, asking how they're doing.”
Warner on “The Dan Patrick Show” said the idea of his sons playing football “scares me as a dad.” Warner was a target of New Orleans Saints defensive players, who were punished for their involvement in Bountygate.
“They both have the dream, like dad, to play in the NFL. That’s their goal. And when you hear things like the bounties, when you know certain things having played the game, and then obviously when you understand the size, the speed, the violence of the game, and then you couple that with situations like Junior Seau—was that a ramification of all the years playing? And things that go with that. It scares me as a dad.”
Warner, who retired after the 2009 season and now works for the NFL Network, was criticized by Amani Toomer for his comments and walked it back a bit in an appearance on ESPN’s “Hill and Schlereth” show.
“I agree from my standpoint that everything I have gotten, and I love the game and I wouldn’t change a thing about my career,” Warner said in response to Toomer. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I continue to love it. I continue to watch it, and am a big fan of the game. But at the end of the day, you know, I’ve seen how my wife looks at this game when I’m out there getting hit. And it’s different when you put on a parent’s hat. And, yeah, I want my kids to play and I want them to be healthy and I’d love them to have a great long career whether that’s collegiate, whether that’s professional. I’d love all that. But as a parent I can’t avoid the fact that it’s a dangerous sport, and it’s a violent sport.
“And it’s not just football I’m talking about. Any time my kids are put in harm’s way, as a parent I say, ‘I don’t want them to do that. I don’t want them to take that chance.’ Can I protect them from anything? No. Am I going to sit here and say, ‘You can’t do this, you ou can’t do that, you can’t drive in a car, you can’t do all the things that are risky in life.’ Of course not.
“But my point being is that as a parent, do you think about that? Do you think about the violence of the game when your kids play? And, yeah, my kids are 13 years old and my son has already suffered a concussion. Do I think about that? Of course I think about that. And the bottom line for me as a parent, is as much as I love the game and what it’s all about and what it’s done for me, the most important thing for me is the safety of my kids. And so that’s my point, is that I consider it. And it’s in my thought process. And when they play and when they want to play and when they talk about playing professionally, I’m very conscious of that.
“And, you know, at the end of the day, I’d love for them to play football. If they don’t play football and never suffer an injury doing anything, I’m going to be an extremely happy parent as they move into the rest of their life and take care of their family and their kids. So I don’t know why I would have to keep my comments to myself. I’m speaking as a father. But I love the game of football and I’ll always love it and I’m so appreciative of what it did for me.”
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