Last week was a sad one for me when I learned that one of my favorite football players, Junior Seau (pronounced SAY OW), took his own life by shooting himself in the heart. I have been a big fan of his since I saw him play as a senior linebacker at Oceanside High. I was a recent high school grad that was pursuing a Navy ROTC scholarship in San Diego so it was just pure luck that we were in the same place at the same time. When I saw him play he was still Junior Seau (pronounced SEW).
He was a great player and no one was surprised when he went on to play linebacker at the University of Southern California (USC). USC was my favorite school for a couple of great reasons. First of all, it was my grandfather’s favorite school and he was a California resident for decades. USC was also the first place I ever had the pleasure of seeing a college football game, in 1977 at the age of nine.
Seau was a star at USC and then was drafted by his home town San Diego Chargers. Living in San Diego for 14 months gave me an attachment to the home town Chargers as well so I followed Seau’s career with much delight. He went on to become one of the Chargers’ all time best players and even played in a Super Bowl in 1994. A few years ago Seau retired from football and told the world that he was ready to get on with life after football. I believe that was code for “the Chargers don’t want me to play for them anymore so I am hanging up my cleats.”
In what seemed like no time later, the Miami Dolphins signed the aging linebacker. Safe to say that Junior wanted to continue playing and Miami wanted him on their team. He did well as one would expect and then moved on to play for the New England Patriots in pursuit of that ever elusive Super Bowl ring. In 2007 his dream almost became a reality when the undefeated Patriots suffered their first loss in the Super Bowl against the surprising New York Giants. Not long after that defeat, Junior retired for the final time.
I am not here to tell you what Junior was going through specifically because the only one who knows the whole story is no longer with us. All I can do is add up the signs that can lead to depression and subsequently suicide. He was divorced with three young children. He was having issues in his current relationship that lead to charges of domestic violence, and what some have guessed, and a failed suicide attempt. Money could have played a role in his demeanor as well but I am not sure about that.
Speaking from experience, I know that what a man needs most in his life when he is deep in the valley of despair. The answer is hope. What we receive all too many times is “false hope.” The friend or relative that says that they understand or that they will be by to check on you or hang out. Because you are a guy or girl who has come out on top in the past, people will take for granted that you will emerge from this depression like you always have…upbeat and okay. Those are the people who are the most torn apart at the funeral. The ones that “just talked to him.”
I ended up in that valley when my best friend since the sixth grade committed a financial crime (he stole $3.5 million from one of the largest banks in the world) and I was implicated, fired and then cleared of the charges of conspiracy, theft and money laundering. Because I was innocent I approached the situation all wrong. I thought everyone would believe my story that I had no knowledge of the crime. The fact that most people did not believe me cut deeply and was very depressing.
I spiraled into a deep pit of despair. Everyday I was thinking about my lost career, income of close to $800k, and my family’s quality of life. I had gone from the ultimate provider to an unemployed pathetic life form. I went to group therapy and talked about my desire to end it all. No one in my group could even imagine how far I had fallen but of course the group leader had all of the answers and all of the options for a better life. I met with the staff shrink and got prescribed some depression meds to help me cope with my current circumstances.
I never took the meds. I just let them pile up for the day that I would take my own life. I just found it too difficult to deal with waking up everyday to what I felt was a nightmare. No one could find the words to make me change what I knew was the answer to soothe my never-ending pain. One friend did ask me to consider the legacy that I would leave for my children. That was impactful but it still didn’t keep the thoughts from entering my mind from time to time. For me it was an inevitable conclusion that was no longer an “if” but a “when.”
Then one day, right before my wife and kids went back east to visit family, my spouse saw that look in my eye. She never thought that I would really end it but she was afraid to leave knowing that I might just get up the nerve. She had stumbled upon my drinking at late night hours with the pills in plain sight and taken the pills and flushed them. What she wasn’t sure of was if I had more and I most certainly did. Her nervousness about what she would “tell the children” forced her to call the one person that I never thought to talk to…my mother.
I bring this up because I saw how distraught Junior’s mother was over his passing. She could not believe that her son made the choice take his own life. In fact she sort of hinted at foul play. She now knows truth but she still doesn’t really know why he ended his fantastic, Hall of Fame life. Rich, handsome and beloved by all who knew him, how could he make such a choice? I know that if she had one more conversation with him she would ask, “how would you feel if you had to bury one of your children?”
I think that may have given him pause to possibly end his quest. Why, because that is what my mom asked me. See she didn’t talk to me as mother-to-son like one would expect, instead she talked to me parent-to-parent and her question shook me like no other ever had. I pictured having to bury one of my sons or my oldest who is my only daughter. That image put me right in my mother’s shoes and it worked. I never let suicide become a viable option for me again. It was now off the table for good.
For those who can’t understand why a man makes this choice, I feel that it is because that is the way he makes every choice. It is his life. So why can’t he end it if he wants to? Public opinion deems that the ultimate selfish act but aren’t most actions that we take as humans selfish ones? We are hard-wired to put our mask on first and tend to others second. It is my life. Why can’t I take it if that’s what I want to do? Instead of telling him he’s being selfish show him all that he will miss out on if he ends the story right now. I believe that, along with the “mom conversation,” will turn most people back from the edge of the cliff.
I remember vividly hearing from someone who once attempted suicide by jumping from The Golden Gate Bridge. He said that right after he jumped “all of his problems seemed like they could be solved but now it was too late.” Of course he survived and now speaks on the topic in front of audiences large and small across the country. He said he decided to jump because of hope…false hope.
We will never know why Junior made his choice. We are left behind to ponder all of the different things going on his life they may have helped him pull the trigger. My hope is that if someone is talking to you about ending it all you take them very seriously. If you feel that you can’t help then you get them someone who can and wants to help. If you don’t you will be very easy to spot at their funeral. Think about it.