When Seattle Weekly reported on the bankruptcy of former Husky and NFL star quarterback Mark Brunell in December, we also touched on other conflicts in the lives of ex-pro football players, including early deaths related to their playing days, such as suicides, as well as heart attacks in their 40s, as befell Lew Bush, a Tacoma native and ex-WSU star. He was also one of seven members of the 1995 San Diego Chargers Super Bowl team who died young. Now there is an eighth: Junior Seau.
His death was nearly identical to that of ex-Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, 50, who also shot himself in the chest, committing suicide last year. Suffering from psychological problems, he left a note asking that his brain be used in a study of NFL concussions. As well, ex-NFL lineman Shane Dronett, 38, committed suicide in 2009 due to delusions resulting from concussions, according to his family.
(Ex-Husky Reggie Rogers and nine ex-Seattle Seahawks are party to an ongoing lawsuit accusing the NFL of concealing the effects of brain injuries on players).
Seau's former wife Gina, asked if she thought her ex suffered brain damage during his 20 years of prep, college and pro football, told ESPN, "Of course he had. He always bounced back and kept on playing. He's a warrior. That didn't stop him. I don't know what football player hasn't. It's not ballet. It's part of the game."
Consultant (and ex-Green Bay Packer) Ken Ruettgers told us for SW's December cover story that some pros discount the possibility that an injury or stress could end their careers and leave them with lifetime medical or psychiatric complications. "Thoughts of suicide are very common," he said.
Bush, Seau's former Chargers teammate and fellow linebacker, never reported any psychological issues but struggled with an array of injuries during his career as a Washington State University player. He was a 1993 NFL draft pick as was fellow Coug Drew Bledsoe along with Huskies Brunell and Billy Joe Hobert, and played pro ball ten years.
When he died of a heart attack December 8, Bush was 42 years old, a year younger than Seau. Two other teammates on their Chargers Super Bowl team had already died of heart failure: Shawn Lee, 44, and Chris Mims, 38. Somewhat eerily, four other teammates have also died before the age of 45: Curtis Whitley of a drug overdose, Rodney Culver of a plane crash, David Griggs of an auto accident, and Doug Miller from a lightening strike (!).
Yahoo! Sports (and ex-Seattle Times) columnist Les Carpenter yesterday remembered writing a story in 2008, after the fifth Chargers death, and how that had seemed like a lot even then. He talked at the time with the team's center, Courtney Hall, who wondered "Is this a curse or something?" Yesterday, Carpenter called Hall back again. This time, with eight dead, Hall said, "I am really at a loss for words."