The Los Angeles Times reports that an autopsy is scheduled for today on the body of football legend Junior Seau, who took his life at 43-years of age with a gunshot wound ot the chest. Seau leaves behind three children, daughter Sydney Beau (born in 1993) and sons Jake Ryan (born in 1995) and Hunter Tiaina (born in 2000) that he fathered with ex-wife Gina Deboer. While authorities try to get to the bottom of exactly what happened, stories about the football legend's character have been flooding into news outlets across the country.
Seau formed the Junior Seau Foundation in 1992, which funneled more than $4 million to organizations that provide services to children and young adults. As stated on the foundation's website, this amount "includes funds designated to an endowment fund which will benefit, in perpetuity, programs supporting youth with the desire but not the means to improve their lives."
Seau was also an inspiration and source of pride for Samoans, both in America Samoa and living in the continental United States. He created a Samoan day events called "sister city" days that he held in San Diego county.
Over at Deadspin, Marine Captain Albert Flores Jr.'s story of running into Seau at a bar last year in Oceanside Harbor, California, paints a picture of a happy, kind, thoughtful man. Seau, upon learning of Flores Jr.'s position in the military, demanded to pay for his dinner and drinks. We suggest you read the entire piece here, in which Deadspin.com has reprinted the Marine's email to them, but here is a small snippet from Flores Jr.'s email:
"Wow, man. I really admire what you do. You guys are real heroes," [Seau said]. Starstruck for a moment, I didn't know how to respond. Did one of my childhood heroes really just call me a hero? He did indeed, and refused to let me pay for my dinner or any more drinks for the night. I was surprised to find out that Junior Seau was not only a former member of the Patriots, he was an American patriot.
So who was Junior Seau? Junior's name was Tiaina Baul Seau, Jr., and he was the fifth child of Tiaina Seau, Sr., and Luisa Mauga Seau of Aunu'u, a small volcanic island off the southeastern shore of Tutuila in American Samoa. Small not only in size, but in population—less than 500 people live on the island. American Samoa, located in the South Pacific, is an unincorporated territory of the United States.
Seau's father worked at a rubber factory and was a school custodian (the USA Today pinpoints a formative moment in Seau's life when, during a high school basketball game, he punched a player on the opposing team, El Camino. His father was a janitor at El Camino, and forced Junior to apologize, so Seau went to an El Camino practice and did as he was told.)
Seau's mother, Luisa worked at the commissary of Camp Pendleton and a laundromat. The USA Today reports that Luisa wept outside his home, explaining how she had just spoken to him on Tuesday. "He was talking to me, joking. Junior, why you never tell me?" she said.
The Seau family returned to American Samoa for several years, but eventually settled in San Diego. The home was packed, so Seau and his three brothers slept in the garage.
Seau was a star athlete at Oceanside High School, lettering in track and field, basketball, and of course, football. During his senior year, Seau was named the Avocado League offensive MVP (he played tight end). Parade selected Seau to its high school All-American team, while on the basketball court, he was named the California Interscholastic Federation San Diego Section Player of the Year. In track and field, he was a shot put star, becoming the Avocado League champion.
Seau's football career, both for the USC Trojans and than the San Diego Chargers, was nothing short of astounding. In 1989 he notched an incredible 19 sacks as a linebacker for the Trojans and was a unanimous first-team All-American selection. He entered the NFL draft after his junior season and was taken fifth overall by the San Diego Chargers. He made an astonishing 12 consecutive Pro Bowls. In 1994, playing with a pinched nerve in his neck, Seau had arguably the greatest game of his career, recording 16 tackles in a brutal AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chargers won 17-13 thanks in large part to Seau's mastery of linebacker, and played in Super Bowl XXIX against the San Francisco 49ers in 1995 (the Chargers lost, 49-26).
Seau's mother reacts:
Yet it was off the field where Seau gained his most ardent admirers, as Marine Captain Flores's story attests. Seau was an inspiration to Samoans in the San Diego community and at home, and his Junior Seau Foundation, whose stated aim is to "educated and empower young people through support of child abuse prevention, drug and alcohol awareness, recreational opportunities, anti-juvenile delinquency efforts and complimentary educational programs" will be as much as part of his legacy has his football achievements are.
The Foundation's many programs included a giant Thanksgiving dinner Seau hosted at his Seau's The Restaurant, which brought together more than 700 clients of non-profit agencies, including homeless shelters, rehab centers, victims of domestic violence and military families. The news of Seau's suicide came as a terrible shock to everyone, and the small obituary on the Foundation's site captures the type of man he was: Junior Seau was a San Diego original. While he was most known as one of the best linebackers of all time, his passion on the football field was matched by his commitment to San Diego, and particularly its children. All of us at the Junior Seau Foundation are devastated by the loss of our founder, leader and friend.
Unfortunately, Seau's not the first former NFL player to take his own life, and not even the only one to do so with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Former Chicago Bears Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest almost 15 months ago. He was 50. Just two weeks ago, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterline, 62, shot himself in Richmond, Virginia. There are others, from former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters, 44, who shot himself in the head in 2006, to former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman, Terry Long, 45, who committed suicide by drinking antifreeze, also in 2006. Adjustment into a "civilian" life, along with neurological trauma suffered over the years of playing this violent sport, are potential causes so many ex-NFL players have taken their own lives.
Seau's former teammates react:
The Los Angeles Times, Forbes, and ABC News are just some of the media outlets asking whether or not the NFL needs to deal more directly with the potential link between brain injury caused by the sport and suicides.
Whatever the exact cause of Seau's suicide, what is known is he was a giant off the field as well as on, and he will be missed.