Seau Family Deciding Whether to Donate Player’s Brain for Study

Junior Seau’s family is debating whether to donate the former National Football League player’s brain to researchers studying the effects of head injuries in sports, his pastor said.

Seau, 43, was found with a fatal, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest at his home in Oceanside, California, on May 2, according to the San Diego County medical examiner’s office. His family will decide “within days” whether to donate his brain to science, Shawn Mitchell, a pastor at New Venture Fellowship and a close family friend, said in a May 5 telephone interview.

“They are definitely revisiting everything that they were considering based on the heightened emotions, grief and anguish of the first few days,” said Mitchell, the San Diego Chargers’ chaplain during Seau’s 13 years with the team. “They’re bringing in what they call elders, who are personal friends and guides who help them during times such as this. They have not made any decisions.”

Mitchell did not respond to an e-mail yesterday asking whether the family had reached a decision.

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 with a gunshot wound to the chest in February at age 50.

Player Lawsuits

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.

Seau’s family is considering giving his brain to researchers to help protect future athletes, not because anyone has suggested brain trauma played a role in his death, Mitchell said.

A decision will be made soon to allow a memorial service to go ahead, Mitchell said.

“Initially they were looking at memorial services next week, but days have shifted, locations have shifted, so that’s what’s in flux right now,” he said.

The family hasn’t said where the brain would be donated should they decide to give it to research, according to Mitchell. He said that the Boston University School of Medicine, where Duerson’s brain was examined, was one possibility that had been discussed.

Seau, who was selected by the Chargers with the fifth pick in the 1990 NFL draft, is the eighth member of the Chargers’ 1994 Super Bowl team to die.

Seau, a linebacker, was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s. He made 12 Pro Bowls, played three seasons with the Miami Dolphins after leaving the Chargers in 2002 and spent his last four years in the NFL with the New England Patriots before retiring after the 2009 season.

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