Junior Seau’s brain tissue has been sent to the National Institutes of Health for study, two months after the former San Diego Chargers linebacker committed suicide at his Oceanside, California, home.
The decision to donate the brain tissue was made “recently,” San Diego County spokeswoman Sarah Gordon said today in a telephone interview. She declined to comment further.
NIH, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is made up of 27 institutes and centers focused on specific diseases or body symptoms. The Bethesda, Maryland-based group said today in a statement that it is not directly involved in analysis of Seau’s cause of death.
“Physicians at NIH’s neurological disorders and stroke institute conduct research on traumatic brain injury and have agreed to carry out an analysis of the autopsied tissue,” according to the statement. “In order to protect Mr. Seau’s children’s right to privacy, NIH will not discuss the status of the tissue or any subsequent findings.”
Seau, who played 20 National Football League seasons, shot himself in the chest on May 2, according to police. Shortly after his death, Seau’s family decided to donate his brain to researchers studying the effects of head injuries in sports, then reassessed the decision, according to Seau’s pastor, Shawn Mitchell.
The family was considering giving his brain to researchers to help protect future athletes, not because anyone had suggested brain trauma played a role in the linebacker’s suicide, Mitchell said at the time. Mitchell didn’t immediately return a message left today at his office seeking comment on the donation.
Traumatic brain damage has been found in the autopsies of at least two ex-NFL players who killed themselves -- Andre Waters, a former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back, in November 2006 at the age of 44; and Dave Duerson, a one-time Chicago Bears, in February 2012 at age 50.
More than 2,000 former NFL players, including Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon, have filed more than 80 lawsuits against the league seeking damages for head injuries sustained on the field. Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who was one of the players suing the league, shot and killed himself two weeks before Seau at his home in Richmond, Virginia.
Seau was selected by the Chargers with the fifth pick in the 1990 NFL draft, and 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.
In October 2010, he was hospitalized with minor injuries when his sports utility vehicle went 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.