— Football great Junior Seau’s brain will be examined for evidence of injuries from his playing days following the retired linebacker’s suicide in his California beachfront home, a pastor for the family said Friday.
Pastor Shawn Mitchell, a former chaplain for Seau’s team, the San Diego Chargers, said he did not know which research entity might study Seau’s brain.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, which found in an autopsy Thursday that Seau’s death the day before was due to suicide, has said study of the brain for “repetitive injury” would have to be conducted by outside researchers.
“The Seau family really has, almost like Junior, a philanthropic approach, where they always desire to help others,” Mitchell said in a phone interview with the AP Friday. “The purpose is not initially to discover anything about their son and what led to these tragic circumstances, but rather the betterment of other people and athletes down the road through anything that can be learned through the study.”
He said the family was not speculating as to whether concussions were a factor in Seau’s suicide.
Seau, a star at Southern California before playing for his hometown Chargers for 13 seasons, was found dead Wednesday at his Oceanside home. An autopsy concluded he shot himself in the chest.
There’s been no medical evidence that brain injuries from football may have played a role in his death.
Seau’s ex-wife, Gina, told the Associated Press Wednesday that he sustained concussions during his 20-year NFL career, during which he also played for Miami and New England.
Robert Boland, associate professor of sports management at New York University, said the fact that Seau was found to have shot himself in the chest may be significant, given that retired football player Dave Duerson did the same thing last year, and left a note asking that his brain be studied.
“I think that was a lot of people’s first thought, and it was mine,” Boland said. “My sense would be that because Duerson did that as well, it preserved their brains for study.”
Over 1,500 former football players have sued the NFL over head injuries. On Thursday, 100 other retired players filed a lawsuit against the league on the same grounds in federal court in Atlanta.
The league disputes the claims in the suits, which accuse it of concealing links between football and brain injuries.
“Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement. “It stands in contrast to the league’s actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions.”
The league has focused in recent seasons on health and safety issues. It has cracked down on hits to the head, and stiffened rules that bar players from using their helmets as a weapon through head-first contact, which is subject to fines and suspension for repeat offenders.
Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy has analyzed the brains of dozens of former athletes, including that of Duerson.
While saying it was saddened by Seau’s death, center officials would not say if they have reached out to the Seau family or would be interested in studying his brain.
Duerson’s family has filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL, claiming the league didn’t do enough to prevent or treat concussions that severely damaged Duerson’s brain before he died in in February 2011.
Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who had joined in a concussion-related lawsuit against the league shot himself last month at age 62. — Agencies