His story is now so well known as to be mythologized, his end an emblem of the concussion crisis that the NFL is so close to litigating into history. In the years before his death, Junior Seau suffered from depression, mood swings, forgetfulness and detachment. His behavior became erratic: In 2010, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend. Hours later, he drove his car off a 30-foot bluff. The former star NFL linebacker reportedly told police he’d become sleepy — he also suffered from insomnia. Finally, on May 2, 2012, Seau shot himself — in the chest, presumably so that his brain might be studied — and died. Examination of his brain confirmed that he was afflicted by chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the progressive, degenerative brain disease whose only known cause is repeated blows to the head.
Seau’s story now has an additional, troubling coda: Were he still alive today, Junior Seau would not be covered by the NFL’s concussion settlement. The landmark deal between the league and its retired players has been sold as essential relief for long-suffering players, resulting in payouts of at least $675 million. But Seau, even with all of his problems, would have received nothing. Any other player now suffering from those same issues would get the same bupkis.
For all the headlines blaring about huge awards from the settlement — a maximum of $5 million for ALS and $3.5 million for Parkinson’s disease — most athletes won’t see payouts anything like those. While ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive impairment and certain cases of CTE diagnosed after death are all covered, behavioral issues, like those that plagued Seau — and former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson, who also shot himself in the chest — are not. Former players living with clear symptoms of CTE are simply out of luck. And none of this begins to describe the procedural hoops and rings of fire players must jump through in attempting to claim money from the deal.