by Darian Barnes
In 2005, while a member of the Miami Dolphins, I had the fortunate pleasure of playing with Junior Seau. At the time, he was amongst defensive greats like Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, and Kevin Carter to name a few. Going into my fifth year of playing, it was impressive to be even practicing against guys of that caliber.
As an individual, Junior was truly dynamic. His intimidating frame matched and imposing game was only exceeded by his kindness and thoughtful personality. One of the most memorable experiences of my career was my first padded practice at the Dolphins facility, where Junior came out fully geared in a medical jersey, (indicating that he would not be involved in any hitting) and mountain climbing shoes. Not only did he practice at full speed, but tried to take my head off a few times when I came to block him.
The man had presence. He was a joyful person, modestly exuberant and openly humble. Whatever he did, he commanded attention from everyone in the room. He truly is the last person I would have ever thought to take his own life.
And I would be stupid to think that I knew him well enough at all to know what could have driven him to it. A guy like that who has interacted with so many people, chances are I'm one of hundreds of fullbacks he's come across, and certainly not the famous (See: Lorenzo Neal). I would like to think if someone asked him if he knew me, he would say yes; he seemed like the kind of person that remembered everyone that he came in contact with.
Junior Seau taking his own life makes me think about my future, and honestly it scares the hell out of me. It makes me wonder where I will be mentally, emotionally, and physically at age 43, and how I will have coped with life after football. It makes me wonder if I'm doing enough to have a meaningful quality of life, not only for myself but also my family.
I wonder what kind of support system he had. I watch ESPN and I'm confused why everyone keeps harping on the bounty program and not talking about what drove him to kill himself, and how on and off the field activities contributed to it. Why isn't the media asking what former player organizations are doing to prevent tragedies like this?
There is a part of me that feel likes The NFLPA, NFL Alumni, and all retired NFL players failed him. I'm upset that there aren't strong enough networks, fellowship of former athletes, or organization in football that retired athletes can go to get help. I'm not talking about some hotline, program or a seminar that you can fly out to and discuss your problems with someone; I'm talking about a program that truly is here to help troubled athletes. Granted there have been other suicides in the past, former Atlanta Falcons defensive back Ray Easterling committed suicide a few weeks ago. Dave Duberson, a former player for the Chicago Bears, shot himself last year.
Divorce, concussions, life after football, financial problems, and overall transition from the NFL to a second career or the next stage in life is something all retired athletes have to deal with in some fashion. If Junior Seau's death teaches former athletes anything, it's that they must stay engaged and connected with each other and not leave it up to other organizations to do so. We should not be afraid to come to each other or anyone for help if we are in dire straits like Junior apparently was, and most of all recognize that Junior's situation isn't very far from a lot of situations that most former athletes have been through themselves. Junior Seau was truly a great man, but if he thought the only option he had was to take his own life, then I don't know what it means for the rest of us. And that scares me.