Junior Seau’s daughter’s speech reminds us some men will risk everything for football
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
What price glory?
The question is a cliché.
But ask yourself whether you rather would have a father who never achieved his dreams, who perhaps is average, but who will be there with you until he grows old and frail or a dad who gave his all to a dangerous industry, made big money for it, suffered grievous damage in the process, killed himself at age 43, then was honored as one of the greatest of all time at what he performed.
It might seem simple: Give me the dad who is always there.
But what if not pursuing his dream with surreal frenzy would have destroyed the man he was, the father you cherished?
That’s the problem with Junior Seau. The NFL linebacker of 20 years shot himself in the chest — in the heart, if you will — on May 2, 2012, and the autopsy showed his brain was damaged by chronic traumatic encephalopathy from the many head blows he took.
CTE does a lot of stuff to its victims, but depression, dementia and descent into the darkness of the loss of self are prime symptoms.
Seau shot himself in the chest, like former Bears safety Dave Duerson did before him, because the pain of living was too much and he wanted to leave his brain untouched for medical research.
The brain of late Bears center Mike Pyle has been sent off for study, like those of so many other deceased football players have, and I’ll bet you the tests will show Pyle, who had virtually no memory or speaking ability by the time he died last month at 76, suffered from CTE. Just as former NFL players Andre Waters, Mike Webster and Dave Costa, former NHL players Bob Probert, Steve Montador and Derek Boogaard and many others did.
Like those athletes, Seau was so wrapped up in being successful at his sport that he was impervious to the obvious, nearly guaranteed risks.
So be it. That’s how champions are wired.
Thus, the question again: What price glory?
Anybody pondering that should listen to Seau’s daughter Sydney’s speech — the one she recorded on video in her hotel room but wasn’t allowed to repeat in full at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday in Canton, Ohio — honoring her dead father.
Sydney is 18, but she has the poise of an older adult. She also has the innocence and sincerity of a child. A daughter is what she is. She has three brothers, and they were all in Canton. But she was the one who gave the family speech, the speech she said her father should have been alive to give.
‘‘The two things that define my father most are passion and love,’’ she said in the video, which was posted by the New York Times. ‘‘He always gave you all of himself because, to him, there was never any other option.’’
And who feeds on that? The NFL, naturally. And who feeds on the NFL? Players, such as Seau, with pride, hunger and recklessness so deep they barely can exist without the danger.
Sydney said she missed her dad’s funny ukulele-playing and singing and his hugs so strong and long she gasped for breath.
But she’s not looking for pity. She only yearns.
On Saturday, Sydney gave a shortened version of the speech on the awards stage. In the crowd, Seau’s mother covered her face with her hands as she dissolved into sobs. Sydney herself broke down, but she soldiered on.
‘‘Dad, you gave us your time, your presence, your love. But most of all, you gave us your heart,’’ she said, the image lingering painfully. ‘‘You were everything.’’
So do we let passionate men kill themselves because, in a sense, they need to? Or do we, as civilized people, say, ‘‘No, you can’t’’?
Freedom becomes the word.
And it makes you wonder about the freedom to become addicted. Because Seau was an addict who mainlined football.
This is where Sydney said something brilliant, something deep and precise. She said her dad left the game but never retired.
‘‘I think the point is you can never truly retire from this game because that would indicate that you were quitting,’’ she said. ‘‘And you can’t quit something that is a part of who you are. Instead, he graduates.’’
Sydney then began to weep.
‘‘Dad. I love you and I miss you,’’ she ended. ‘‘Congratulations, you made it!’’
The question is, made what?