Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Junior Seau’s Suicide: Transitions From the Field to Life

Can the NFL help players cope with change?

News reports about Junior Seau’s apparent death by suicide were on every TV at my gym this morning. But that wasn’t how I knew it was an important story.

It was when I saw fellow gym-goers stop mid-stride from the locker room to the treadmill and actually watch the coverage.

When news first broke of Seau’s death, I knew what the story would be. Seau, who had a very successful NFL career, “was never listed on an NFL injury report with a concussion.” I knew that Seau’s death would be linked to traumatic brain injury and the possible impact a career of concussions has had on the suicide deaths of other football players.

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Last year, when I wrote about Dave Duerson, who reportedly took his own life in order to have his brain used in research on football-related brain injury, I was worried that media coverage of Duerson’s death didn’t help prevention. By being so explicit about how and why Duerson took his life, the media were basically telling other football players to do the same.

Yesterday, when I heard about Seau’s death, I wasn’t very hopeful. I thought for sure that the entire conversation would be about concussions as the sole contributing factor to football player suicide.   

But, conventional wisdom seems to have come a long way. 

Today, a story in the Boston Globe said what I wanted to say: “That [Seau] decided to end his life so soon after a standout career will have the NFL, from the top down, taking a deeper look into what is being done to help players in the transition from the field to regular life.”

No death by suicide is simple. There is never one cause, if there is ever a “cause.” But, life transitions can precipitate suicide. Relationships, jobs, and other ways that we define ourselves as individuals can change or end without much notice. For some, these changes or ends increase risk for suicide.

At a time when everyone’s paying attention, I hope the NFL will take this opportunity to consider what can be done to help players thrive, both on the field and off, and as stars both current and former.

Copyright 2012 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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