Cory's Corner: Junior Seau is an NFL martyr

This weekend we honor the efforts of Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Charles Haley, Bill Polian, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff and former Packers’ revival architect Ron Wolf.

But the most important induction into the NFL Hall of Fame will be Junior Seau.

Everyone knows his story. The spirited linebacker played the game with wreckless abandon. He wasn’t afraid of anything and it seemed was in on just about every tackle.

After playing for 20 years, which is the longest NFL career for a defensive player, Seau shot himself in the chest on May 2, 2012.

Eight months later, he was diagnosed with CTE, which is a degenerative disease found in the brain associated with athletes that have had repetitive brain trauma.

Seau knew what he was doing back then. Head injuries were getting swept under the rug and the NFL didn’t want to think that head injuries were actually causing serious harm.

You see, Seau wasn’t just an impressive middle linebacker that made 12 Pro Bowls and registered over 100 tackles in a season eight times.

Seau was a martyr. His sacrifice was made so that future research and money could be used to educate teams and players about how serious head injuries are.

Is the NFL squeamish when Seau’s name is called? You bet it is. The Shield failed its players and that’s why it cut a check for $765 million in 2013.

The game of football has come a long ways since Vince Lombardi was diagramming the power sweep. The most important factor is the size and strength. Most high school offensive lines are bigger than what the Packers had in the 1960s.

Seau was one of the first players to call out the Shield. Something that is now a regular occurrence following the debacle of Deflategate.

So when you think of Seau, think of his vigor. Remember how he celebrated each quarterback sack and tackle with a huge leg kick, which electrified the crowd.

He’s the best linebacker I’ve ever seen because he made others better. That’s not easy to do when you don’t have the ball each snap. In 30 years before his arrival in San Diego, the Chargers only made the playoffs nine times. Two years after his rookie year, the Chargers were in the postseason. And two years later, the Chargers were in the Super Bowl because Junior Seau tackled John L. Williams short of the end zone in the AFC Championship Game.  

It was easy to see how much Seau loved the game. His passion was infectious and even if your team got beat by his, you had to tip your cap to him because deep down you knew that he just plain outworked everyone else.

But while it’s a celebration of his life, it’s also a debt of gratitude for how and why he died.

The NFL was much better for having him be a part of it. He singlehandedly saved an apathetic franchise that couldn’t get out of its own way.

And now, he continues to save football players’ lives with education and research because he made the NFL take notice. 

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Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Comments (11)

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Bearmeat's picture

August 08, 2015 at 07:38 am

Seau did not kill himself to become a martyr. He killed himself because he was mentally ill - almost assuredly because of the CTE he contracted while playing football for 30 years.

I feel terrible for him and his family. And I think the NFL owners are despicable in many regards - one of which is the way they swept medical research as it pertains to head trauma under the rug in the late 80s - early 2000s.

But Seau is not a martyr.

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WKUPackFan's picture

August 09, 2015 at 08:27 am

Hi Bear, respectfully disagree to an extent. The word martyr may be too strong, but I believe it is in the context of shooting himself in the chest to preserve his brain for study. This once again shows that folks with mental illnesses (a very broad term) can do incredibly logical things in the middle of personal chaos.

We don't know Seau's exact diagnosis, and speculation in these areas is very dangerous. However, it's possible that continuing therapy could have brought him back from the brink. While we're making progress in recognizing and properly treating mental disorders, older ideas still remain.

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John Galt III's picture

August 08, 2015 at 07:55 am

So why haven't Dick Butkus, Sam Huff, Ray Nitschke, and the other guys who made the middle linebacker famous in the 60's killed themselves?

I watched those guys play with reckless abandon. Helmets were not nearly as good back then.

I mean I am old enough to remember playing with a leather helmet when I was a kid. I know. I 'm old.

Hindsight is 20-20. Me, I would increase the game day roster to a number like 66 or so. That would mean a player would be available at virtually every position so the coach would not have to leave a player in the game and could find an immediate backup. There would also be a third player there just in case.

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Since'61's picture

August 08, 2015 at 08:37 am

Sadly John the NFL owners are not going to increase the size of the rosters and pay more salaries. Not unless they get an 18 game season, which the NFLPA is solidly against. Like you I watched Huff, Nitschke, Butkus, play back in the '60s. The big difference between then and the current era is that now we have bigger and faster players, playing on surfaces that helps the players move even faster creating more violent collisions. When the game was played on natural grass the game was slower. Yes, Nitschke and Butkus and others played with reckless abandon but the game was slower and the number of plays run during the course of the game was less than today. Even with that plenty of those old players suffered with the lingering effects of the game like John Mackey, Willie Wood, Johnny U, Elijah Pitts, Lionel Aldridge and many, many others. Whether Seau is a martyr or not his death has helped to finally bring some attention to the issue of head trauma among NFL players and to the callous indifference of the league and the NFL owners. The NFL like so many other big corporations has supplanted the health and welfare of its employees for greed. The results have been a deteriorating product on the field and a never ending series of scandals and poor decisions as we have seen in the Ray Rice and deflatgate scandals, just to name a few. Thanks, Since '61

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WKUPackFan's picture

August 09, 2015 at 08:10 am

Unfortunately comparing the effects of head trauma from different eras is as apples and oranges as comparing the same with two modern day players. Each individual is different, the symptoms are different, the damage is different. The legends may not show outward signs, but it's pretty much guaranteed that there are some struggles they may not even realize,

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4thand1's picture

August 08, 2015 at 08:50 am

The NFL was and is to blame. The old days "kill the QB" was the battle cry of even young kids watching games. ESPN highlighted big hits over the middle on defenseless receivers. Jack Tatum should have been banned for life. Everyone loved the vicious hits and ratings climbed through the roof. The NFL made more and more money. With the revenue the NFL enjoys today, 765 mil is a drop in the bucket for these players. They should have received several billion. Greed at the expense of player safety. I totally agree John, the roster should be expanded, the tightass NFL sure can afford it. It would also achieve more parity IMO.

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aaronqb's picture

August 08, 2015 at 12:58 pm

"The most important factor is the size and strength."

No, the most important factors are speed, size, and the use of the head (helmet) as a weapon. The amount of kinetic energy involved in collisions today are much larger than they were in Lombardi's time because players are so much faster and bigger. In the 60s, defenders hit with their shoulders - now they hit with their heads.

This is the cause of the increase in the number and severity of concussions.

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4thand1's picture

August 08, 2015 at 02:28 pm

Listening to players, they talked about how they were taught to hit. Using their helmets to drive right through a player. Many of them cause their own head trauma. Now they are going after knees. They mentality of knocking a player out of a game is still there. I grew up playing hockey and got knocked out more than once. Twice I was checked from behind and the other player never even got a penalty. I was 12 years old, woke up to smelling salts on the bench and thrown right back on the ice. The trouble is people love violence, its in our human nature. When sports turns more and more passive, the ratings will decline. We as a species aren't ready for that yet. So bring on the pain, pay a weeks salary to go to a game, and revel in the major collisions. At least the players of today can afford their long term medical expenses. Take care of the guys that made you all this $$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

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WKUPackFan's picture

August 09, 2015 at 09:47 am

The Terminator (in T2), to 12 year old John Conner: "It's in your nature to destroy yourselves".

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Portland Mark's picture

August 08, 2015 at 02:25 pm

While this thread is about Seau and player safety, Charles Haley's name is mentioned. He was a great player who is also is said to have urinated on Carmen Policy's desk while with the 49ers. It's hard to cheer for someone like that. It's even harder to understand why someone like Jerry Kramer is left out.

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4thand1's picture

August 09, 2015 at 09:08 am

Jerry Kramer not in the HOF is an absolute crime. So what if there are a lot of Packers from the dynasty of the 60's in the HOF. The whole dam team was great, the players that made them great should be enshrined. JK has handled it with nothing but class ,and is a model for what players should be when it comes to the image the NFL so wants to portray.

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