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Pro Football Hall of Fame explains why Junior Seau’s family cannot speak

Junior Seau, with daughter Sydney, was inducted into the San Diego Chargers’ Hall of Fame in 2011, the year before his death. (Denis Poroy / AP)

The moment at which Junior Seau, the great linebacker who suffered brain damage from playing in the NFL and took his life in 2012, was inducted into the Pro Football of Fame was always going to be an emotional and difficult one.

His family continues to struggle with the aftermath of his death and the discovery that the San Diego Chargers great was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And the Hall of Fame would prefer that consequences of playing the game not cast a pall on next weekend’s festivities. Those are two mutually exclusive endeavors, as we learned last week when the New York Times reported that Sydney Seau, the daughter of Junior, would not be allowed to speak at the ceremony.

[Seau family won’t be allowed to speak]

“It’s frustrating because the induction is for my father and for the other players, but then to not be able to speak, it’s painful,” Sydney Seau told the Times. “I just want to give the speech he would have given. It wasn’t going to be about this mess. My speech was solely about him.”

Seau was one of the most beloved players in modern football history and his suicide shook the sport, as did the news that he was suffering from CTE. The idea that his family could not speak drew widespread criticism, but the Hall of Fame pointed out Saturday that it has rules for the ceremony. In 2010, it decided to stop allowing speeches about deceased players, choosing instead to show a video. Sydney Seau will speak in that video, making comments recorded before she understood those were to be here only ones. The video will run five minutes, two longer than those for living inductees.

The Hall of Fame sought to distinguish itself from the NFL, with the HOF President David Baker saying, “we’re not the NFL, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Our mission is to honor the heroes of the game and Junior is a hero of the game. We’re going to celebrate his life, not the death and other issues.” In a a statement to fans, he wrote:

“Reports published Friday incorrectly stated that the Hall of Fame was “not allowing” or “barring” the Seau family from speaking at the Enshrinement on Saturday, Aug. 8. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is why I write this letter.
The stories erroneously imply that a change in our policy regarding individuals enshrined posthumously was made solely for the case of Junior Seau when, in fact, it has been the Hall of Fame’s policy since 2010. This is not a precedent setting circumstance. It is existing policy, which is six years old and was first implemented in 2011 when Los Angeles Rams great Les Richter was enshrined posthumously.
For clarification, only Hall of Famers speak at the podium during the Enshrinement. Presenters speak through dramatic videos that celebrate the enshrinees’ Hall of Fame careers.
The role of Sydney Seau, who will present her late father, is the same as the seven other distinguished individuals who will serve as presenters for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.
The Hall has been in positive communication with Sydney, her mother, and the executor of Junior’s estate who each have communicated to us that they understand and fully support the Hall’s policy.
They, like all of us, want the Enshrinement to celebrate the careers of all eight of these legendary Hall of Famers of the Class of 2015.
The Mission of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is to “Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence EVERYWHERE.”
The Hall of Fame will make that Mission the focus of the 2015 Enshrinement Weekend. Fans from across the country will travel to Canton, Ohio, the birthplace of the NFL, and pay tribute to eight “Heroes of the Game” as Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Charles Haley, Bill Polian, Junior Seau, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff, and Ron Wolf – officially join the most exclusive club in all of sports and have their legacies forever preserved in Canton.”

For 20 years, Seau played for the Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots before retiring after the 2009 season at the age of 40. Three years later, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest, preserving his brain for scientific study. In 2013, doctors determined that his tissue showed signs of CTE, a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia, memory loss, behavioral changes and depression.

His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL in 2013 and Gina Seau his ex-wife and Sydney’s mother, told the Los Angeles Times the family will not fight the Hall.

“It’s already difficult enough as it is,” she said.