PHOENIX — Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the king of grump, had become almost tearful Thursday as he described the magnificence of late linebacker Junior Seau.
As you likely know, Seau killed himself with a gunshot to the chest in 2012 to preserve his brain so that scientists could see what likely had become obvious, if not provable, to those who were close to him: His brain was a wounded mess.
The autopsy indeed would show Seau, 43, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head and a factor in the suicides of so many ex-players that even the formerly know-nothing NFL couldn’t deny the connection.
So when Belichick praised Seau, who had played for the Patriots for four seasons, it remained oddly unstated that nobody — nobody — should do whatever it was he had done to his own brain.
‘‘The one word that comes to me when I think of Junior in life and football: passion,’’ Belichick said. ‘‘First guy in the building in the morning, watching film, lifting weights, ready for practice, always loved to practice, flying around on the practice field, energy before the game, during the game. Emotional player but a smart player. . I loved coaching him.’’
Apparently, the hideous result of this wonderful football player’s success afield didn’t seem worthy of a mention from Belichick. Is that a coach’s model employee, a player so dedicated to the sport that he slowly kills himself pleasing you?
‘‘I can’t imagine having a Professional Football Hall of Fame without Junior Seau in it,’’ Belichick said passionately.
Of course not.
But after Andre Waters, Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, Jovan Belcher and others, you might think NFL big shots would feel a little — how do we put this?— conflicted when talking about players who committed suicide, no matter their heroics afield.
Maybe some good will come from the conflict because the NFL certainly has gotten the message that it better do something.
That is why I am now in Room B at the Phoenix Convention Center for the NFL Health and Safety Committee report. Five people — four of them doctors — from the committee are on the dais, which is moderated by NFL senior vice president Jeff Miller.
So you’d expect good news and spin to come right away. Which they do.
Miller says that General Electric and Under Armour are teaming
up with the NFL to create a challenge for businesses to come up with ‘‘innovative materials’’ to reduce concussions. Things like flubber, we’ll guess. Six semifinalists will be awarded $250,000 each. The winner will get another $500,000.
OK, this is all about capitalism, the form of economics we have embraced. Fine. Money flows to projects that can make more money. It ever has been so.
The revenue that has helped the NFL burgeon will continue to pour in; the Super Bowl ads are insanely about super money. And embarrassing tales about players losing their minds from NFL trauma is something the league can’t allow to undermine this golden geyser.
That means Americans need to keep playing football at a monster level. Football needs to be equated with drama, excitement, growth, courage, patriotism, Our Country. College, high school, middle school, Pop Warner — all of it.
The NFL dreads the moms of America rising up and keeping their sons away from the game. Hence, the ‘‘Moms Clinics’’ the league already has put on in 23 NFL cities. (One was held in September at Halas Hall.)
Concussions are dangerous, weird, little-understood springboards to further cognitive issues.
‘‘In a few games we’ll see nothing,’’ says Dr. Javier Cardenas, the director of the Barrow Concussion & Brain Injury Center in Phoenix and one of the two brain experts who will be on the sidelines — one on the Seahawks’ side, one on the Patriots’ side — during the Super Bowl. ‘‘And in some there will be multiple concussions. It’s not always easy to determine, even with a baseline.
‘‘Less than 10 percent of the time they get knocked out. There is nothing that always happens with a concussion.’’
The NFL’s stats show that concussions have decreased since 2011 — from 252 in 2011 to 202 last season. Excellent. However, for whatever reasons, there were more concussions in practice this season (50) than there were four years ago (37). And more concussions during the preseason (83-78). And virtually the same amount of knee-to-head concussions as measured since 2012 (13, 15, 15).
Nobody mentioned this.
So I asked committee chairman Dr. John York, who also is the chairman of the 49ers, if the NFL had to be shamed into this, if it shouldn’t have done brain research long ago.
‘‘Simple answer, yes,’’ he replied. ‘‘It would have been better if we started in 1930.’’
But they didn’t. Junior Seau wasn’t alive then, either.