It’s come up often over the years. Mostly, the question has come up in a cynical manner, as if each of us have blinders to everything else in the world. It comes from good-natured souls who are disillusioned by how apparently society’s attention span tends to be skewed away from ‘the real issues.’
The answer is rather simple on the surface, but the underlying layers are what give you and me – hopefully fans, above all – the opportunities to exult our love for the games.
We want to connect to something a bit beyond ourselves.
When it comes to sports, what’s beyond us isn’t some sort of otherworldly experience, even though winning can feel pretty damn close. What’s beyond us is being another person; roaming the field, court or ice while ideally representing our cities and towns through a uniform.
Certainly revered by his peers, Junior Seau was arguably the most respected player amongst the fans in his prime. Toiling away for some truly awful teams and the 1994 AFC Champions whom caught lightning in a bottle, Seau was the sole reason many outside of San Diego remembered there was a football team there. He was as ferocious as a middle linebacker as they came over a twenty-year NFL career (that extended into Miami and New England); a non-stop motor that revved on, even with age creeping in.
From all accounts, he was also one of the more benevolent players you’d ever come across. Many sincerely believe he was a better person than a player, which says a lot considering that he was a Hall of Famer-in-waiting after his second retirement.
His death casts such a large pall over a football-obsessed nation that it even pushes aside news regarding its continued greatest controversy – Bountygate – within hours.
Remeberances from beat writers, reflections from around football, and the larger narrative of his passing are still forming, just as our attempts to understand why was this – of all tragic deaths – his final play.
“And it’s so tough for everyone around him to know that… Junior had something he was dealing with that… everyone was in debt to this guy to help him in his time of need, and none of us were able to help him before this happened.”
Along with thousands of words spoken moments after Seau’s passing, those from former teammate and current ESPN analyst Marcellus Wiley reminded us that few people ever discuss depression or suicide in an open manner until it comes directly into their view. Even if the details will be slow to come out as expected when these tragedies occur, the recent spate of suicides by former athletes is already telling us how the story goes.
This speculation exists because we seek finality. We seek a reason. We seek some sort of rationale because, after twenty-plus years of appreciating and living somewhat vicariously through him, this is something we cannot connect to.
Then again, how can anyone fully comprehend being so downtrodden and burdened that ending life by your own hands is the only way to alleviate the pain?
It’s odd for us because as much as we would loved to have lived a life like Seau’s – the hometown kid that wore the legendary #55 at USC before starring for the Chargers – we’d have a hard time understanding the tolls taken on his complete being over three decades.
Regardless of how we feel about suicide or depression, there’s one certainty in all of this. Tiaina Baul Seau, Jr. was a rare breed; the athlete people couldn’t help but to respect for his unbridled passion about his craft and a genuine investment in the lives of others. You just wish that it was enough for him to carry on.
Thank you, Junior. May you find peace.
Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school's 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.