News broke on Wednesday that Junior Seau had been found dead. He was shot to death, according to the preliminary reports, but word started leaking pretty quickly that it looked like a case of suicide. This can still be termed a shooting death, sure, but there's a lot more impact to the word suicide. In news reporting, the words we choose to use matter. And they should.
In the days before this awful event occurred, the NFL had been aflutter with news of the Saints bounty program. In fact, Sports Illustrated was even linking to this article with the header "The Final Shoe Drops." It's incredible to think that a sport that is literally predicated upon players hitting one another could find itself so aghast at the existence of this bounty program.
The connecting factor between these two stories, of course, is the commissioner of the National Football League: Roger Goodell. Charged with protecting the sport that Americans cherish, and preserving its place at the top of the nation's sporting pyramid, Goodell has done more than a passable job. He's done well, and football is constantly surpassing its old records: more money made, more games shown, bigger audience for the Super Bowl. The list goes on.
However, there's no denying that, while Goodell has shown genuine concern about the concussion issue, that very issue is much, much larger than we previously understood. Even with all the recent focus on concussions, there's a compelling argument to be made that we still don't understand them fully.
Junior Seau, by all accounts, was a highly successful, positive-thinking role model, celebrated in his community, by his team, and even by a large portion of the country, especially in his playing days. His intensity may have put some people off, sure, but practically everyone who was living in Southern California in the early and mid-90s was rooting for him. He seems a poor candidate for suicide at first glance, but the connection between getting your brain addled on a regular basis and coming down with serious depression afterwards seems like it's becoming more and more clear with every incident the sports-loving public suffers through. The saga of Barret Robbins and the litany of lawsuits concerning concussions seem to suggest we as an audience (and participants!) are reaching the breaking point.
It should be abundantly clear that I am not a medical expert, nor has it been confirmed that Seau actually killed himself. Further, having a concussion has not, ever, definitively lead to suicide, or even self-harm. Plenty of people suffer through concussions and go on to lead rich, full, successful lives.
Despite the above disclaimers, though, if Roger Goodell's duty is to serve as the vanguard of the National Football League, there have got to be some common sense steps taken before the damning proof has been served. Americans love football and want to continue to, but as concussions and health care of ex-players are increasingly presented in the news, plenty of NIMBY mothers and fathers are going to extend those cares beyond their backyards and onto their children. Everybody wants to raise the next successful quarterback. But what if the risk is too high?