Nobody, in any position, has the right to trivialize the effects a football career can have on the mind and body. At this point, it’s not if there are effects, but to what extent the effects have on former players. The evidence thus far isn’t good, Junior Seau, an all-time great linebacker, killed himself. Many claim it’s not because of football, and part of the responsibility of Seau’s death is his personal struggles, such as a divorce that grinded down Junior. However, along with the personal issues, Seau dealt with the lingering effect of a hard-hitting career as a defensive stopper. There’s no way to gauge how much of his suicide was due to football, but there’s certainly enough evidence to speculate.
The fact that Seau shot himself in the chest, similar to Dave Duerson, who committed suicide because of the effects football had on his mind, could imply that he wants his brain examined, which is exactly what Duerson did. It’s a fine line that non-athletes feel uncomfortable about. Bloggers and reporters who didn’t play the game simply don’t have the experience of not knowing where they are because of a vicious hit, It’s an uncomfortable criticism. There have been hundreds of articles, some scorning the NFL for a lack of protection and some going in the opposite direction, pleading for football to not change because of a couple bad cases, there simply isn’t a right answer.
It’s a gruesome sport, and regardless of protection, head injuries will occur. Changing the game will anger the traditionalists and thrill the progressives, but until these players understand there are people they can talk to about their problems, the issues will continue. Concussions and CTE aren’t ending, so the NFL needs to focus on educating players about their mental health. They need to understand that if these things do happen, they must seek assistance. Whether it’s a friend, doctor, or family member, athletes must understand that mental problems aren’t offensive linemen they can throw to the side. It’s a serious issue that millions of regular people deal with everyday. Some will tragically take their own life, afraid and lonely, and without an option in their minds. And others fight through it. They find solace in the things and people they love. It’s an impossible battle that affects every angle of society, not just football. The difference is football players are trained to internalize fear and weakness. The NFL needs to teach them that life on the field, however much it may affect your post-career experience, isn’t a philosophical microcosm for life. It’s a game, and after that game, talking about how you feel isn’t weak. It’s brave.