KGTV — Junior Seau, the beloved San Diego Chargers linebacker needed no introduction.
Playing for his home team, Oceanside's Junior Seau's passion for the game, Samoan strength, instinct, and work ethic, made him one of the most dominant players to ever play the game.
Junior once said: “Don't worry about the accolades just work now. Don't worry about tomorrow, because if you work today, it's going to help tomorrow.”
And he never forgot the 5,000-mile path his parents took to get him here.
“They sacrificed so much, coming to the states not knowing English, sacrificed for six kids, and did a great job” – Junior Seau
Seau retired in 2010 after 20 seasons in the NFL, 13 with the chargers. He was voted to the pro-bowl 12 times, all-pro 8 times. He played in 268 games, the second-most of any linebacker in NFL history, but his heart never strayed from the sandy San Diego county beaches of his boyhood.
“This is home and always will be” – Junior Seau
Admiration so mutual from all his fans in San Diego. His smile and energy so infectious.
But May 2, 2012, Junior Seau took his own life. A single gunshot to the chest. A city left stunned and saddened. His heartbroken family inconsolable.
As his mother addressed the people who had gathered in front of his house, she left many in tears as she cried to God, “take me, take me…leave my son alone.”
Mary Seau sat down with ABC 10News anchor Kimberly Hunt and told her: “ I look at my mom and my dad, and it hits me sometimes, I wish, if I had known, he probably would have been here today, and my mom and dad wouldn't look so sad," Mary Seau said.
Junior's sister wishes she had known what brain tests revealed after Junior's death. Her brother was suffering from a neurodegenerative disease, that can be caused by repetitive hits to the head, referred to as CTE.
The preeminent expert in the field, Dr. Ann McKee the director of the Boston University CTE Center, says the symptoms tend to be personality changes, irritability, anxiety, depression, a sense of hopelessness, and suicidal tendencies.
Dr. McKee says it's likely Junior was dealing with it the last 10 years he played in the NFL.
“That he was hiding it, because he was the life of the party, and he was so important socially to the team. But I think he was struggling, and he was struggling silently, and I think it just became too much for him," Dr. Ann McKee said.
McKee created and directs the largest brain bank in the world for people exposed to traumatic brain injuries. She's examined well over 300 brains of deceased NFL players, and over 90% revealed CTE.
“Why aren't we doing more to protect these players," Dr. Ann McKee said.
A call to change the game also came from Junior himself less than two months before his death.
Mary Seau told us: “He did an interview, he said football needs to change. He doesn’t remember his name, his child’s name, or who he is.”
Junior was speaking to ESPN's Jim Trotter about the dangers of the game and why it's important to enhance player safety. Trotter tells me, that after Junior's death he now believes Junior was indeed talking about himself. Here's what Junior said:
“Those who are saying that the game has changed for the worst, they don't have a father that couldn't remember his name, because of the game. If everybody had to wake up with their dad not knowing his name, not knowing his kid's name, being able to function at a normal rate. I mean, they will understand that the game needs to change.” – Junior Seau’s voice
“Denying it, pretending it doesn't exist, it will just continue to affect more and more players, until someday the dam breaks and we start doing something to protect these players," Dr. Ann McKee added.
Mary says Junior would want people to remember who he was, a great football player and someone who always tried to help his community, and she says he's sorry for the way he left.
Junior's ex-wife, and mother of three of his four children, Gina Seau provided us their thoughts, writing:
Every year, every birthday, father’s day, any day, we think of him.
There are countless happy memories, followed by clouds of loss, disbelief and hurt for what "could have been......" Not just this year, because it's been 10 years......
Our hearts are with the many who suffer from CTE: for the families, friends and loved ones , and the confusion of exactly what to do for them?
We remain committed to one another every day in every way. I thank God , truly THANK GOD, for the health and wellbeing of our children, and see his smile in them every day. --Gina Seau
Mary Seau says raising awareness about brain trauma is Junior's second legacy. Now she tries to help others thru the Mary Seau CTE Foundation
“To make sure other families don’t go thru what we’re going thru. The pain, and the darkness, and the coldness that’s left behind," Mary Seau said.
You can reach Mary Seau for information on the Mary Seau CTE Foundation by emailing her at: Mary.Seau@gmail.com.
Mary is consulting with players and their families on a one-on-one basis.
If you or someone you know needs mental health help or is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.