Junior Seau was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame on Saturday, August 8, 2015. Seau had given 20 years to the game – with 12 Pro Bowl and 6 First-Team All Pro appearances. No one doubted that when Seau retired in 2009 that he would make it into the Hall right when he was eligible, which was this year.
However, Seau was not present at his induction ceremony on August 8. On May 2, 2012, Seau died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his home in Oceanside, California.
Towards the end of his NFL career, Seau had asked his daughter, Sydney to give an acceptance speech on his behalf when he was inducted into the Hall. However, in 2010, the NFL enacted a policy that allows only players to give their acceptance speeches. The league did not make an exception to the rule in Seau’s case. As a compromise of sorts, the NFL allowed Sydney to give an interview after a video was played honoring Seau. But, Sydney did record the speech that she wrote for her father in her hotel room in Canton, Ohio, which has been shared with the world.
While the NFL’s refusal to allow Sydney to give the speech at the induction could just be another instance of the league’s strict adherence to policy, it probably also has to do with the tension between the Seau family and the NFL.
In June, 2012, a class-action lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania against the NFL and Riddell, the company that manufactures the official helmet worn by players. The suit was filed on behalf of more than 5,000 former players and their families. The class-action complaint alleged that the NFL had been aware of the severe and lasting effects of repeated concussive injuries endured by players and that the NFL had a duty to inform players of, and protect players from, these risks.
Specifically, players who sustained repeated head impacts have suffered brain injuries that can result in one or more of the following: early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, depression, deficits in cognitive functioning, reduced processing of speed, attention and reasoning, memory loss, insomnia, mood swings, personality changes, and a debilitating latent disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is associated with an increased risk of suicide.
The plaintiffs claim that instead of protecting the players, the NFL embarked on a campaign to downplay the significant health risks associated with repeated head injuries on the field in an attempt to protect its bottom line.
The Seau family was part of that class-action suit. Additionally, the Seau family filed a separate action against the NFL and Riddell in the California state court in San Diego. The Seau family’s complaint mirrors the class-action complaint, but includes allegations specifically related to Seau’s career and injuries.
Throughout Seau’s 20 season career, he sustained countless injuries, including blow after blow to his head. A majority of the time, Seau continued playing, despite his injuries. Towards the end of his career, Seau struggled with severe depression, forgetfulness, cognitive impairment, emotional instability, aggression and violent behavior. He turned to alcohol and compulsive gambling as a means to cope.
Seau’s family alleges that the injuries and medical problems that Seau suffered were the cause of his suicide.
After Seau’s autopsy, three different doctors in a triple blind study found that Seau’s brain showed evidence of “multi-focaltauopathy consistent with a diagnosis of [CTE].”
The class-action lawsuit settled in April. The settlement allows up to $5 million to players who have certain neurological conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as funds for research and monitoring. The settlement covers about 21,000 former NFL players. Since the settlement, about 90 former players have appealed.
The Seau family opted out of the settlement, along with around 200 other plaintiffs. It has been reported that the Seau family was eligible for a payment of approximately $4 million dollars.
Instead, the Seau family will pursue their case in California state court, where they have made fraud, negligence and wrongful death claims. The difficulty for the Seau family will be showing that the repeated head injuries suffered by Seau caused severe lasting brain damage, which drove Seau to commit suicide, and that ultimately the NFL and Riddell are responsible.
It will be interesting if this case actually goes to trial. With such high stakes, I would guess that the NFL will settle with the Seau family for an amount more than the $5 million cap in the class-action settlement. I doubt that amount will be disclosed to the public.