NCF Nation: Junior Seau

PHOENIX -- The first reaction was shock: Junior Seau dead at just 43, his death ruled a suicide. Quickly came grief: An all-time USC and NFL great, a good guy known for his accessibility and philanthropy away from the field who didn't want to live anymore.

Then shortly thereafter: Anger. Another football player dead before his time. Surely head injuries -- concussions -- were to blame. Surely the game is to blame. These three stages have been repeated too often of late, and their repetition threatens our love affair with a sport that obsesses our country like no other.

We can't make you feel any better about Seau. That's a still-resonating tragedy. We can only note it's premature to arrive at any overriding conclusions as to why he did the unthinkable.

[+] EnlargeJunior Seau
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireSpecialists are trying to determine whether Junior Seau's suicide could be related to the growing link between football and concussions.
But we might be able to make you feel a little bit better about football.

The takeaway from a timely Fiesta Bowl Summit panel Thursday, "Sports-Related Concussions: Facts, Fallacies and New Frontiers," was twofold: 1. The NCAA and NFL, after the media forced them to pay attention, have been working hard to get their arms around the issue; 2. It's not unreasonable to believe they can.

Of course, there always will be head injuries in contact sports, and repeated head trauma can lead to long-term health problems. This knowledge isn't new. Doctors were aware of boxers becoming punch drunk -- dementia pugilistica -- in the 1920s.

Understanding concussions and how best to prevent and then treat them, however, isn't easy. As Dr. Margot Putukian, one of four panelists at the Arizona Biltmore, said, concussions are "a moving target." Each one is different, and each person is different. They are not anything like a torn ACL.

Yet there has been recent research progress that is particularly meaningful for football. Said Dr. Michael McCrea, "The news is promising."

McCrea's research found that 28 percent of athletes suffering a concussion no longer show symptoms from their injury after 24 hours. Sixty percent are asymptomatic after a week to 10 days. So nearly 90 percent of athletes passed tests that showed their symptoms were gone inside of 10 days. But that's not the good news. Passing tests that show symptoms are gone doesn't mean the brain has fully healed -- achieved full clinical recovery.

The good news is this: Those numbers, it turns out, do indeed run roughly parallel to a full clinical recovery. Using a multi-dimensional approach -- symptoms tests as well as MRI -- for assessing the recovery process can, McCrea said, "take the guesswork out of concussion management."

These numbers should make it easier to convince athletes who are eager to get back on the field and coaches who want them there to be patient. Simply, coming back too early greatly increases the risk of another concussion, and a second concussion almost always requires a far longer recovery time. Waiting the full seven to 10 days -- and missing a game -- greatly reduces the risk of re-injury, McCrea said. Ergo, there are now specific numbers that show it's better for athlete and team not to rush things.

But the issues with concussions extend beyond understanding them, treating them and even preventing them. Every institution needs well-drilled standards and procedures for dealing with them: A concussion management plan. And coaches and training staff need to know them and know them well. Putukian asked a rhetorical question that all parents of athletes should be asking coaches (non-rhetorically): "What medical personnel do you have there, and what do you do in case of emergency?"

How many layers of procedure are involved here? Lots. Here's one you probably didn't think of: Academic accommodation. A player who suffered a concussion on Saturday might have issues taking a test the following Wednesday.

There was a consensus among the four doctors about how the NFL and NCAA can continue to improve their approach to concussions.

  • Education: Players and coaches need to understand how serious head injuries are, and the potentially harmful long-term consequences for returning to play too soon. This could include, for example, coaches deciding to limit contact during practices.
  • Equipment: There are no helmets that prevent concussions, and there won't ever be. That doesn't mean some helmets aren't better than others. Virginia Tech has devised a respected helmet ratings system, and the Riddell 360, Rawlings Quantum Plus and Riddell Revolution Speed all achieved five-star ratings.
  • Rules changes: Obviously, an emphasis on stopping head-to-head collisions has been front-and-center. A lot of attention also is being paid to when concussions are most likely to happen in a football game -- on special teams, in the open field and for specific positions.
  • Culture change: This might be one of the most difficult to enact -- see the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. Football is a physical game. That's why it's fun to play and to watch. But there needs to be a recognition that brutality for brutality's sake, a zeal for hurting opponents, can have horrific ramifications after the cartoonish strut and taunt end.

Coaches seem to be taking this issue seriously. Among those who attended the concussion summit, which was presided over by NCAA president Mark Emmert, were Stanford's David Shaw, Wisconsin's Brett Bielema and Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville. When it was over, UTEP coach Mike Price stood up to say it was the best talk on the subject he'd heard.

This was a sad week for football. A few folks are seriously raising the question of whether college football should be banned. Seau's death made it less easy to scoff derisively at such talk.

Concussions are a serious problem in football. The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing it. The concussion panel this week suggested that football now might be taking a second and perhaps third step.

Junior Seau found dead

May, 2, 2012
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The USC community was rocked this morning with the news that former Trojans linebacker Junior Seau was found dead at his San Diego area home.

There haven't been too many players more associated with dominant football at USC in the past 25 years than Seau, a fierce and aggressive defensive player who helped popularize the No. 55 as a revered jersey number for standout Trojans linebackers.

Seau played at USC from 1988-89 on a pair of highly successful teams. He had 19 sacks in his college career and was named to multiple All-American teams before becoming a first-round draft pick of his hometown San Diego Chargers in 1990.

During an illustrious NFL career he was named to 12 Pro Bowl teams, the NFL All-Decade team for the 1990's and the Chargers Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the USC athletics Hall of Fame and recently made an appearance at the USC spring game as part of a group of legendary Trojans players.

The final four revealed

May, 12, 2010
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Two rounds are in the books and four teams are left in ESPN.com’s playoff to determine college football’s best NFL pipeline.

Clemson, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, Arizona State and Penn State were eliminated in Round 2.

Georgia, Notre Dame, UCLA and Ohio State were pushed aside in Round 1.

Only Florida State, Pittsburgh, Miami and the University of Southern California are left.

Based on recent history, it’s a surprise the Panthers are still standing.

Next to college football’s teams of the 1980s (Miami), 1990s (FSU) and 2000s (USC), the Panthers stick out as much as Lane Kiffin sitting at a table of Hall of Fame coaches.

But here’s a brief history lesson to bring you up to speed on Pittsburgh football:

In the early 1980s, there probably wasn’t a better NFL factory than the Steel City’s university. Quarterback Dan Marino played there, along with fellow Pro Football Hall of Famers Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson.

Who can forget Pitt’s stellar offensive linemen like Mark May, Jimbo Covert, Ruben Brown and Bill Fralic or its menacing defensive linemen such as Hugh Green, Chris Doleman and Sean Gilbert? Former NFL running backs Curtis Martin and Craig “Iron Head” Heyward played for the Panthers. More recently, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Darrelle Revis starred at Pitt.

But if the survey were based on the last 10 to 15 years -- instead of the last three decades -- the Panthers wouldn’t have a seat at the front table.

FSU, Miami and USC are far and away college football’s best NFL factories during the last two decades.

The Hurricanes blessed us with alumni who won five NFL Most Valuable Player awards and made 100 Pro Bowl appearances. An alumni game at "The U.” would include a defense led by safety Ed Reed, linebacker Ray Lewis, and defensive linemen Warren Sapp and Cortez Kennedy. Try scoring against that unit.

The Miami offense would include quarterback Jim Kelly, tailbacks Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis, receiver Michael Irvin, tight end Jeremy Shockey, and tackle Bryant McKinnie.

Only USC can match that kind of star power. Four of the former Trojans drafted by NFL teams since 1979 are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: safety Ronnie Lott, tailback Marcus Allen, and offensive linemen Anthony Munoz and Bruce Matthews.

It’s probably only a matter of time before former Trojans Junior Seau joins his fellow USC alumni in Canton, Ohio.

Florida State, which won 10 games or more every season from 1987-2000 and won national championships in 1993 and ’99, produced NFL stars such as Deion Sanders, Derrick Brooks, Walter Jones and Warrick Dunn.

But many of FSU’s best players during the 1980s and ‘90s never found as much success in the NFL. Brad Johnson, the only former Noles quarterback to have sustained success in the NFL, didn’t even start during his senior season at FSU. Quarterbacks like Peter Tom Willis, Danny McManus, Danny Kanell and Casey Weldon had a cup of coffee in the NFL, but not much more.

What was the biggest surprise in the first round? No. 12 seed Ohio State over No. 5 seed Tennessee.

Ohio State’s lineup of Orlando Pace, Cris Carter, Chris Spielman, Eddie George and Robert Smith is as good as anybody’s, but Tennessee’s roster of NFL talent is arguably just as solid.

Besides, who doesn’t know the Buckeyes are going to lose to an SEC team every time?

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