Junior Seau Is Dead, Cont.


There was some talk yesterday that the deceased NFL great had no documented history of concussions. This turns out to have more to do with the particulars of pro football, then what actually happened:

Although Junior Seau was never listed on an NFL injury report as having had a concussion, those close to him say he admitted to having experienced multiple head injuries....

Gina Seau said her ex-husband did suffer concussions during his nearly 20-year NFL career. "Of course he had. He always bounced back and kept on playing," she said in a phone interview. "He's a warrior. That didn't stop him. I don't know what football player hasn't. It's not ballet. It's part of the game..."

Taylor Twellman, a soccer analyst for ESPN and former Major League Soccer star, was a neighbor of Seau's in Oceanside, Calif. He said Thursday in an interview with ESPN's "SportsCenter" that he told Seau one time that he had suffered a concussion playing soccer and was experiencing bad headaches.

Twellman said Seau admitted he also suffered from headaches from multiple concussions playing football. Twellman, who has become an advocate for athletes with brain trauma, said he later tried to reach out to Seau to tell him he should seek help, but Seau never responded.

I think Gina Seau's statement is a fairly accurate depiction of the mentality, among pro football players, coaches, management, media and people like me who are fans. You can argue that that might be changing now. I don't think her words are either shocking or damning.

We need to be honest here: If you're going to play pro football, being hurt isn't merely a problem because you want to play. It's a problem because your absence could decrease your team's chance of winning, hurt your own image of self, and (perhaps most importantly) put you on the waiver-wire. Football is a job. I have no idea how, specifically, the NFL can change that. It's strikes me as built into the structure of the game.

I'll have more (in longer form) on my decision to turn away, a feeling that's only deepened as I've thought more on this. But I want to double down on something. I can't really over-emphasize how much this is a personal decision, and not—as one commenter put it—a "personal boycott."

I have no real designs to keep grown men from playing football. I don't really have designs on anything. I think as progressives we sometimes get trapped into discussing morality strictly in the paradigm of "affecting change."

But I think morality in the Emersonian paradigm—that "nothing is at last sacred, but the integrity of your own mind," that religion is what you do when no one's looking—is just as important. The Montgomery Boycott is not "only" important because of its results. You don't just protest segregation as a demonstration to other people, you also do so as a demonstration to self.

In football, as in so many other things, each of has to decide where that demonstration to self must be made. Personal morality is rarely improved in a crowd.

More later.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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