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Speculation Arises about the Role of Concussions in Another NFL Player's Suicide


Junior Seau, New England Patriots

Credit: JJ Hall/Wikimedia Commons

NFL legend Junior Seau died today after reportedly shooting himself in the chest, according to various news reports.

What prompted the apparent suicide is still unknown. But Seau's taking of his own life will inevitably raise questions about a possible role of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disorder that results from repeated concussions and that can produce dementia and other forms of cognitive dysfunction.

The NFL has had to contend with a growing incidence of this disorder. Dave Duerson, an NFL safety, committed suicide in 2011 by shooting himself in the chest and directed that his brain be used for research on CTE. Any player in the NFL, and in other contact sports like hockey, probably leaves a long career with some traces of brain injury. But tests will be needed to determine whether Seau merited a clinical diagnosis.

No reports have emerged so far that Seau suffered from dementia-like symptoms. An SUV that Seau was driving in 2010 near his home in Oceanside, Calif., went over a cliff that fronted on a beach, according to The Los Angeles Times. The incident occurred following his arrest that year related to suspicion of domestic violence.

Seau, a 12-time NFL Pro linebacker following a career as an All-American at University of Southern California, registered 13 seasons with the San Diego Chargers, three seasons with the Miami Dolphins and ended his career with the New England Patriots.

See Scientific American's In-Depth Report—The Science of Concussion and Brain Injury—and the article "The Collision Syndrome" (pay wall) from the February 2012 Scientific American for more on CTE.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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