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Junior Seau's Suicide Raises Safety Concerns About Youth Football


When Junior Seau, the former San Diego Chargers star, was found dead in his home last Wednesday from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest, speculation immediately began: Was there a connection between his suicide and football?

Seau's family initially decided to donate his brain to science Thursday evening, but have since reconsidered, according to ABC News, choosing instead to consult Samoan elders before making a final decision.

Until scientists examine Seau's brain for traces of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (assuming the Seau family goes ahead with the donation), there'll be no way to conclusively tie Seau's death to his football career. While Seau was never listed on an NFL injury report with a concussion, his wife told the Associated Press that Seau did experience concussions during his career, with one former teammate estimating Seau could have suffered as many as 1,500 concussions.

Seau's untimely death has prompted NFL players to speaking out about safety concerns over the past week, particularly regarding their children playing youth football.

Appearing on Dan Patrick's radio show last Thursday, retired quarterback Kurt Warner, who won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams, said that "there's no question in [his] mind" that he doesn't want his sons following in his footsteps with a professional football career. While praising NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the steps he's taken to ensure player safety, Warner said the thought of his two sons playing pro football "scares" him.

Amani Toomer, a former wide receiver for the New York Giants, quickly criticized Warner on NBC SportsTalk for his comments and said he'd "definitely" allow his son to play football.

But Warner isn't the only NFL veteran sounding the alarm.

Giants Hall-of-Fame linebacker Harry Carson was quoted in a recent Newsday story as saying that he wouldn't allow his two-year-old grandson to play football. "You want your kids to do whatever they want to do, but I was very emphatic about him not playing football, that he do something else," Carson said to the paper.

Sports columnists haven't been shy in recent days about staking their place on the "my kids aren't playing football" train, either.

Ashley Fox, NFL columnist for ESPN, published a commentary in mid-April explaining why her kids won't be stepping near a football field. Football is "too violent," she wrote, "and the ramifications of head injuries suffered while playing at all levels is too great."

Fox lead her piece by stressing that this head-injury crisis isn't just limited to professional football; it trickles down through college to the high school, middle school, and Pop Warner levels.

Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times penned a similar piece Monday night, noting that "just as much damage to the brain can occur when two skinny-necked kids collide as when two muscled-up NFL beasts collide." That's not hyperbole, either: A study published earlier this year found 7- and 8-year-old youth football players sometimes experiencing hits "in the range of concussion-causing impacts measured in adults."

Another study published earlier this year in the journal Brain Injury suggests teenagers actually feel the effects of concussions more severely than younger children (ages 9-12) and adults.

Meanwhile, the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy has discovered traces of CTE in a deceased 18-year-old football player who suffered multiple concussions in his playing career, the earliest case on record.

The point is, head injuries, concussions, and CTE aren't issues exclusive to the NFL. They can and do affect football players at all levels.

It's up to parents whether those risks are enough to steer their kids away from football, these former players and experts say.

Photo: Then-St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner carries his son, Kade, off the field after a practice in 2000. (Stephen J. Carrera/AP-File)

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