C&G Shades On: Junior Seau’s Hall of Fame Induction and CTE


C&G Shades On is a special weekly column from Sara Kakuris, bringing a die-hard USC football fan’s voice and perspective to Reign of Troy.

I apologize in advance for the slightly darker tone of this week’s column. I can’t shake the funk the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony cast over me and I need to talk about it to those who will understand.

The induction of the USC great Junior Seau is truly bittersweet. The man is the definition of a legend and not just to Trojans. Growing up in San Diego, nobody really gave much thought to the never-that-good Chargers, but EVERYONE knew about Junior. He is also the first Samoan ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

His 2012 suicide struck me on many levels. I have a professional background in Clinical Psychology and have also had my own struggles with mental illness throughout my life. Knowing anyone was in that much pain, added on to the fact that he was a Trojan, was profoundly gut wrenching.

I don’t want to focus too much on the morbidity of the situation, but anyone who knows his story knows that he made it clear in his final act that there was research that needed to be done, or his wouldn’t be the last tragedy.

I struggle to reconcile my deep love of the game with what I know about the horrors caused by it, in the form of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. CTE.

According to researchers at Boston University, “CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head…This trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement.  The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.”

It’s not my, or the, place to get into a full discussion of CTE or the NFL’s knowledge of it. If you’re interested, I highly recommend watching the extraordinary PBS documentary League of Denial, or reading the book by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada on which it was based.

It is eye opening, it is rage inducing and it is heartbreaking.

But it didn’t make me stop watching football. Much like how my enormous love for animals hasn’t caused me to become a vegetarian, I still selfishly obsess over the game, give them my money, my time.

Part of me justifies this by the belief that Seau would still have played every game he did, even if he knew everything he ended up knowing in the end.

All players love the game. Some players need the game.

I’ve heard reports that more parents are disallowing their children to even play Pop Warner and, I have to say, I understand where that comes from.

Will it affect the future of football? Maybe. Should it? I don’t know.

The death of Junior Seau should not be in vain. Anyone who knew him can verify something horrible was going on with his brain at the end of his life. He knew it.

And now we know it.

If the NFL isn’t worried about saving its players, at least it should be worried about saving itself. The effects of and knowledge being made public about CTE is not going to fade away. The professional football institution would be better served putting its millions of dollars towards research and answers.

Find a way to protect these boys, these men. Find a way to protect the game we all truly love.

His daughter, Sydney Seau, gave an incredible speech at the induction (after previously being told she would not be allowed to, despite his express wishes when he was alive). His love, impact and success was so much more than football.

Fight on, Junior. You deserve to be here for this.

I welcome hearing your thoughts and any future ideas you’d like to see in a column. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @SCTrojanSara and tweet me any time.

See you next week and Fight On!

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