Police said they’re treating the shooting death of Junior Seau, a former National Football League linebacker voted an All-Pro six times in a 20-year career, as a suicide.
Seau, who was 43, died yesterday at his home in Oceanside, California, of a gunshot wound to the chest. He’s the eighth member of the San Diego Chargers’ 1994 Super Bowl team to die.
Chargers President Dean Spanos said in a statement that he’s “shocked and devastated” by the death of Seau, who spent 13 seasons with the team.
“I can tell you no one had more character and true leadership ability than Junior,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said in a statement released by the team. “He brought passion to the game of football that was unmatched.”
Traumatic brain damage has been found in the autopsies of at least two former NFL players who killed themselves -- Andre Waters, a former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back who died in November 2006 at the age of 44, and former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who took his own life in February 2012 at age 50.
Former NFL players including Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon have sued the NFL in more than a dozen complaints that the league ignored the consequences of head injuries. Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who was one of the players suing the league, shot and killed himself two weeks ago at his home in Richmond, Virginia.
“Depression and suicide are serious matters and we, as current and former NFL players, should demand better treatment,” Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith said via Twitter today in response to the news of Seau’s death.
Oceanside Chief of Police Frank McCoy said at a news conference outside Seau’s beachfront house that a woman who identified herself as the former player’s girlfriend returned to the home and found him unconscious in one of the bedrooms with a gunshot wound to the chest. A handgun was found near Seau’s body and life-saving efforts were unsuccessful, McCoy said.
Seau was selected by the Chargers with the fifth pick in the 1990 NFL draft out of the University of Southern California. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s.
Seau, who was 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds during his playing career, made 12 Pro Bowls and totaled 56 1/2 sacks. After leaving the Chargers in 2002, he played three seasons with the Miami Dolphins and then his final four with the Patriots. He was a captain on the 2007 New England Patriots team that went 18-0 before losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
Seau retired from the NFL after the 2009 season, when he played in seven games for the Patriots. He was with the Chargers from 1990 through 2002 and was chosen the league’s defensive player of the year in 1992.
‘A Fierce Competitor’
“Junior was a fierce competitor whose passion and work ethic lifted his teammates to greater heights,” Dolphins Chief Executive Officer Mike Dee said in a statement. “His enthusiasm for the game was infectious and he passed that on to everyone who was around him. He loved the game so much, and no one played with more sheer joy.”
The previous member of the Chargers’ 1994 team, which lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, to die was Lew Bush, who succumbed to a heart attack in December.
Other members of the squad who have died are running back Rodney Culver, linebackers Dave Griggs and Doug Miller, defensive tackle Shawn Lee, defensive end Chris Mims and center Curtis Whitley.
Tragic 1994 Team
Griggs died in a 1995 car crash, Culver was killed in a 1996 plane crash, Miller was struck by lightning in 1998, Whitley overdosed in 2008, Mims died of an enlarged heart the same year and Lee suffered cardiac arrest in March 2011.
Seau in October 2010 was hospitalized with minor injuries when his Cadillac sports utility vehicle veered off a cliff in Carlsbad, California, hours after he was arrested for domestic abuse. Seau, who was conscious and behind the wheel when his car was found about 100 feet below the road, told investigators he didn’t try to kill himself and drove off the cliff because he fell asleep.
Seau had been arrested about eight hours earlier in Oceanside, the town adjacent to Carlsbad on the California coast about 37 miles (60 kilometers) north of San Diego. Oceanside police said they went to Seau’s apartment following a call from his 25-year-old live-in girlfriend alleging that Seau assaulted her during a verbal argument. Seau was released after posting bail, police said at the time.