Yesterday was a day full of tears across the sports world. It started during the first press conference from the new team owners at Dodgers stadium. Magic Johnson was asked what it meant for him to become the first African-American owner in Major League Baseball for the same Dodger team that brought Jackie Robinson in to break the color barrier. With voice cracking, he said, “I can’t even put in words how it is,” and they were tears of joy that were welling up in his eyes and mine as well watching at home.
Then much later in the day came the news of the death of Junior Seau and soon after it started trickling out that police were investigating it as a suicide and then I began watching the interviews with tearful teammates hours after that, still in disbelief.
Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston? They both died way too young as well, but with both of them, there was always this thought you had along the lines of, “Yeah, this is going to end badly.” I don’t think anyone had that sense with Junior Seau.
There was the one disappointing incident from 2010 when we learned of a domestic violence arrest, followed right after by the news that Seau had driven his car off an embankment in Carlsbad. It was a little hard to buy into the strange coincidence of the arrest and then Junior’s story of having fell asleep at the wheel just hours later, so that may have been warning sign there perhaps, but one which was (at least for me) overshadowed and then forgotten by larger picture of who Seau was.
Junior Seau was a Southern California legend, from his high school days in Oceanside, to his days up north in LA as a Trojan at USC and then down south to the thirteen years he played his heart out in San Diego as the cornerstone for Charger teams both good and bad.
He was a man who did so much for the community with his Seau Foundation, to hear that a man with that big of a heart could be dead of suicide at the age of 43, not from the typical self-inflicted gunshot to the head, but from a far more poetic and broken-hearted blast to the chest, it’s almost too much to fathom what could have lead him to that, although no doubt there will be post-mortem examinations of the brain and debate in the months to follow on the long-lasting effects of multiple concussions to players of the game.
We saw so many players speaking from their hearts yesterday about what kind of player Seau was and what he meant to them as a teammate and friend, but let me share with you the comments of two players who I think really said it well.
Jacob Hester never played with Junior Seau. In Hester’s rookie year as a Charger in 2008, Seau was finishing his final two years in the league over in New England, so when Hester tweeted this, he’s speaking not as a former teammate, but as a San Diegan:
Really sad news about Junior Seau. Very few players can be the soul of a city like he was in San Diego. One of the All time greats. #RIP
— Jacob Hester (@JacobHester22) May 2, 2012
Having lived in San Diego for over a year on two different occasions, I can tell you just how true that is. A lot of cities have their favorite sons, but Junior Seau went far beyond just being the most popular athlete in San Diego. Junior Seau was the soul, he was the identity of the entire city and the greater San Diego area.
When I first heard about it, I remember hitting Twitter up and scrolling back to see when the first tweet had come in and then I noticed some of the tweets that had come before the tragic news and it hit me really hard, reading people tweeting things like, “Discussing Biddness inside Seau’s” and “Mingling w/ great people at Seau’s join us!” In a strange way, it was those tweets that got to me as much as anything. It made me want to say, “Dude, that was your restaurant! All those people having a good time there and you owned that place, man! Damn, you owned the whole city, Junior! What the hell happened?”
Let me finish with an ESPN interview with Seau’s former teammate Marcellus Wiley. One of the things that can really get me choked up is to see a grown man of the big, tough, seemingly impervious to anything NFL-type breaking down with emotion, so be warned in clicking the link to the video of the full interview here as it may get to you as it did to me.
If you prefer to read, I provide a good portion of Wiley’s interview here:
When you know the man, I mean, everyone knows five-five as a player, hall of fame player, one of the greatest ever to do it, but when you got to know the man who exceeded that talent and that ability and that production, a greater person than he was as a player? Hard to believe, man, ’cause Junior Seau would do anything on that football field, which wasn’t surprising because I knew his reputation, I’m from Southern California, I grew up watching him at USC and then I was blessed to be his teammate in San Diego 2001, and to realize that this dude was a better person than that linebacker that I knew it just makes it unbelievable to know that this is the finality and this is the result.
The thing about Junior, it’s probably tough for people who don’t know him, is, and I heard Chris Berman say it best, he was a man still, but he was playing the game like he was just a little child, like a boy out there. That spirit he had, it was infectious. He really looked forward to playing the professional footbal game like we all did when we were seven, eight years old playing in the backyard or Pop Warner and Junior always kept that smile, always gregarious, always engaging, always calling everyone, ‘Buddy.’
And now I reflect and I’m like, “Junior, you always led the pack.” And he was the best teammate I’ve ever had with that level of ability. Never do you meet a superstar who is making sure that he’s trying to help the entire team before himself.
Junior would never let you see him sweat, never let you see his pain. And that was the toughest thing about it, because I just thought that was for football… But now I translate that to his personal life and I’m like – we were, we were there for you man and like, we knew you was a superstar, we knew you were a super person, but come out and tell us you needed us.
Junior did it his way, he did it the way where, if he was hurtin’, you knew it, but you wouldn’t see it, and it’s just so tough I think for everybody who’s around him to know that Junior had something he was dealing with. That everyone was in debt to this guy to help him in his time of need and that none of us were able to help him before this happened.