Upon reading the headline today, “…autopsy confirmed Seau, 43, whose career as a star NFL linebacker spanned 20 seasons, died Wednesday at his home in Oceanside, Calif., of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest” I thought of two (2) other tragic deathS: Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling. What makes people like Seau, Easterling and Duerson so deeply strained that death by a bullet was preferable to life and love?
One could argue that Seau no longer loved, but moments prior to his death, he picked up a cell phone and texted his children saying he loved them. Duerson texted his family and said he wanted his brain to be donated to science. Duerson and Easterling both suffered years of declining health and claimed from years of hard hitting football games.
There have been numerous reports that many ex-players are on the verge of bankruptcy, homelessness, and death. In the late 60’s and early 70’s the NFL owners installed Astroturf, an experiment that led many players to suffer numerous physical and mental impartment some years later. Gene Atkins could be a poster child for this. 46-year-old Atkins has good days and bad days. He struggles with his concentration, constant headaches and pain. Doctors indicate he has permanent brain damage from playing football.
Atkins was once of the most intimidating players on the New Orleans Saints, a safety who hit hard and wanted to put fear in offensive players. But that was a long time ago. After football, he unraveled. A domestic dispute, an arrest, business failures, depression, constant headaches and by 2000, the thoughts of suicide. He, like other retired football players, live off Social Security and Medicare, despite the young age. This social safety net costs taxpayers a billion dollars for discarded, disabled players. For NFL owners, not a single cent.
There are two things I want to make clear: I once played football and my first wife attempted suicide. First, my football years were in high school and college. And although I had a try-out for a professional team, my knees suffered way too much from previous injuries. Secondly, although my first obviously never played football, she suffered from depression and did attempt suicide.
Regardless of racial, social or economic class, anyone who had to watch a loved one suffer understands the pain. As a spouse, father or mother, there is no length one would go to alleviate a loved one’s pain. But in the interminable time in-between the bliss, hell’s hallway is long, suffocating and dark. In my case, my wife recovered but I still suffer recurring neurological tingling and tremors. All of this I presume is related to playing football, having suffered several concussions in both my football career and military career.
Yet, when I look to Buddhism, I find the Buddha noticeably silent. Buddhist Monk Tich Kwong Duuk burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963. Đức was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s Roman Catholic government. However, promised reforms were not implemented, the ARVN Special Forces launched nationwide raids on Buddhist pagodas. Several Buddhist monks followed Đức’s example, also immolating themselves. Eventually, an Army coup toppled the government.
While the do’s and don’ts of Buddhism appear vague, we must remember to continually reach out to each other. Reaching out to your community is the love that saves many a life.