When Dave Duerson committed suicide in a Sunny Isles condo in February 2011, the manner of his death was so shocking and tragic -- a bright and beloved former football star shooting himself in the chest to preserve his brain for concussion-related dementia testing -- that it seemed to signal the beginning of something. Real change in the NFL, perhaps.
Nobody fathomed then that it could be the beginning of a trend. But at least one scientist -- the very same neurosurgeon who studied Duerson's brain -- seems to have predicted that Junior Seau was suffering some of the same problems.
The world is still learning the details of the death of Junior Seau, the 43-year-old former linebacker who spent three seasons on the Miami Dolphins and who was one of the most well-liked and respected characters in the game.
But police are reporting that Seau's girlfriend found him in his San Diego-area bedroom with a revolver by his side and an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound in his chest.
Duerson, as New Times reported in a feature about the proud former Super Bowl champ's secret tortured life in Miami, climbed into bed and pulled up the sheets before ending his own life with a .38 Special gunshot to his heart.
Duerson's suicide scene was immaculate. He had left notes and sent text messages indicating he wanted his brain to be donated to Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy -- dementia caused by football-related concussions.
In Seau's case, police have not found any suicide notes, although he must have known the clear message that shooting himself in the chest would send.
Duerson and Seau are not the only retired NFL players to kill themselves. The former hard-hitters whose brains tested positive for dementia in examinations following suicides or reckless deaths include Terry Long, Tom McHale, and Justin Strzelczyk. Former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling shot himself in April.
In public life, Duerson and Seau had very different opinions on the violence of football. Duerson railed against the NFL's punishing players for the kind of hard hits they had been perfecting since their Pop Warner days. "This sucks!" he wrote on his Facebook page just four months before his suicide. "This is a game of collisions!"
But Sports Illustrated columnist Jim Trotter recalls Seau being emphatic about curtailing head trauma to NFL players:
"It has to happen," he said. "Those who are saying the game is changing for the worse, well, they don't have a father who can't remember his name because of the game. I'm pretty sure if everybody had to wake with their dad not knowing his name, not knowing his kid's name, not being able to function at a normal rate after football, they would understand that the game needs to change. If it doesn't there are going to be more players, more great players, being affected by the things that we know of and aren't changing. That's not right."
Only Duerson's closest family knew of his depression -- and his spiraling money woes -- and he even attempted to hide his problems from them. There were few public warning signs, such as when he was arrested for pushing his wife against a wall at an Indiana hotel, a very uncharacteristic episode.
But like Duerson, Seau was one of the last former players whom football fans might expect to end their life in this manner. Digging through old newspaper clips, we found only one instance of speculation concerning Seau's neurological health.
It was Seau being arrested for domestic violence on his girlfriend in 2010 -- and then driving their car off a cliff upon release from jail -- that prompted neurosurgeon Robert Cantu to mention the former linebacker in an interview with the Buffalo News:
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Experts said all irrational behavior cannot be blamed on CTE, but it also cannot be ruled out when it comes to athletes or others who have suffered multiple concussions. Cantu wondered if former NFL linebacker Junior Seau, who last year drove his vehicle off a cliff after a domestic dispute, could be suffering from the disease.
Cantu is a director at Boston University's CTE study center, the same lab where Duerson asked his brain to be sent.