Monday, May 27, 2019

ESPN's 30 for 30: Seau—Why Watch?

  • that you are born with a personality so magnanimous, that you refer those you meet as "buddy." 
  • being incredibly photogenic—in part because of your natural beauty, but more-so because your warm and vibrant spirit is so bright.  
  • growing up in a family where every one of your five siblings had to work after school and during the summer....but you didn't because your "job" was to play sports.
  • being incredibly gifted at three sports—football, basketball, and track and field—but choosing the one you love the least because you know it will serve as a pathway toward financial success, not only for yourself, but for those you love. 
  • the honor you bring your tight knit Samoan family by being able to provide enough so that your parents can leave their two bedroom house, in troubled neighborhood. 
  • the talent it takes to be named a first ballot NFL Hall of Fame player.
  • being drafted in the first round only to return to your hometown to play for your favorite childhood team (in one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S.)
  • playing for 20 years as a linebacker—an incredibly demanding defensive position—and being named a 10-time All-Pro, 12-time Pro Bowl selection, and to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
Now imagine 
  • at the age of 40, telling another athlete you have had a headache since the age of 15
  • acquiring a condition that decreases your ability to handle adversity in your life,
  • suffering in silence and keeping your "game face on" only to have it get the best of you. 
  • slowly disappearing from those who love you—losing your zest for life, questioning your identity and knowing how to get help, but not accepting it.
  • writing in your journal "The world has nothing for me" even though you have four children who love and adore you as their parent.
  • understanding the struggles with depression that your teammates face.
  • telling those same teammates there's nothing is insurmountable and "as long as me you'll never be'll always be loved."
  • not being able to take your own advice.
What I have asked you to imagine—both the good and the bad— should not be hard to do. Why? It is the story of Junior Seau. I was eager to watch the "30 for 30" bearing his name because I had questions and I wanted answers. What did I find? Tragedy and no comedy. A lot of complexity and an understanding that CTE was not the only reason Junior Seau died (though a leading factor). I asked my friend Sean to watch it with me, so I could make sense of his story. I was eager to exchange insights on the themes that emerged, the lessons learned, and how we can and should honor Junior Seau's legacy in an appropriate way.

Seau begins with an aerial view of Oceanside, CA—a town on the north side of San Diego County. The director, Kirby Bradley returns to the image of the gentle waves returning to the sandy shores time and again. The contrast of such beauty, allows the viewer to take in and follow Seau's ultimate demise: into alcohol abuse, infidelity, gambling, and depression. Even his own children could not offer him peace: he hit his own son and turned on the lead Chef at his restaurant. 
Junior Seau died by suicide on May 2, 2012. It was not his first attempt.  
Friends and family knew that surfing in this ocean afforded Seau with a sense of peace and quiet, a place for the spiritual journey each one of takes. His journey ended too quickly. In spite of the struggle, those same fans, friends and family share stories of their love for him, their hopes for his future and how the loss still burns. I asked my good friend Haley, a San Diego native, if she had seen "Seau" yet. She responded in a way that indicated this wound still hurts. I took notice. So, why watch? Why tell the tale? 

ESPN writes "By far Junior Seau was the most famous player to have something like this happen to. It probably would have been voted NFL player least likely to commit suicide during his career." Because of his death we can safely come to one conclusion. No imagination is necessary.

Former NFL player Gary Plummer states "I absolutely would have never sought help were it not been what happened to Junior." It's very possible that Junior's death was a tipping point—THE tipping point: for players, for the NFL and for those of us who love the game. The questions are tough, the answers are many. Is this a resurrection story? No it is not. Is there a lesson that at least one person has learned? Absolutely. And hopefully many more.

Rest in peace, #55.

Photo Credits
Charger Hat

30 for 30

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