Such a sad and disturbing story: retired linebacker Junior Seau, a lock for the Hall of Fame, was found dead yesterday of an apparent suicide. It appears that he shot himself in the chest in the same mannere that Dave Duerson did a year or so ago. We have to wait for more facts to come out before drawing any broad conclusions or trying to link this latest death to the burgeoning issue over concussions and long-term brain damage. We have no evidence that Seau had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) or anything like that.

View Photo Gallery: When Junior Seau died of a gunshot wound to the chest at the age of 43, he became the eighth member of San Diego’s 1994 AFC championship team to die before reaching the age of 45.

But the NFL has had a terrible run of tragedy and scandal lately. Seau is yet another prominent player to die at an early age. The 1994 Chargers team has now had 8 of its members die. Meanwhile, Mark Rypien, who led the Redskins to a Super Bowl championship, is one of the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the NFL saying it hid what it knew about concussions. The scandal over the bounty system for “kill shots” has exposed a thuggish mentality in some locker rooms. The question is whether the NFL is nearing the point that the league must consider fundamental changes in the way the game is played, simply to protect the long-term health of the participants. I don’t know the answer here. Better helmets and more flags for illegal hits aren’t going to be enough, is my guess.

There are those who say the fans demand the violence and won’t tolerate a change in the smashmouth style of play. But I don’t know — is that true? Who wants to watch a sport if it eventually cripples the players? (Here’s the Malcolm Gladwell piece comparing football to dogfighting.)

Sports don’t have an automatic lock on fan affection forever. Think horseracing and boxing. Who is the heavyweight champion of the world? I have no clue. I am pretty sure it’s no longer Mike Tyson.

Update: Lavar Arrington has written about Seau on our site, expressing disbelief that his friend would commit suicide.

See also this piece by Mike Lopresti in USA Today talking about the NFL’s serial troubles.

Here’s a piece from FoxNews quoting an expert saying former athletes need to be screened for depression.