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Feeling the impact of Seau’s death

May 9, 2012
By BRENT SOBLESKI - Sports correspondent , The Herald-Star

I never wanted to write this column. I was always too afraid to let the public know of my weakness. But now I'm prepared to be strong.

Everything changed for me last Wednesday. Junior Seau - one of my all-time favorite football players -took his life. I waited to write this column hoping we'd hear some sort of confirmation of what happened. Why it happened.

Seau's death is very personal to me. I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Seau, but he did have an effect on my life.

Like Seau, I wore No. 55 in my playing career. I'll never forget as a sophomore as a brand new member of the varsity football team, I chose the number over 57 at the time. I can still envision standing over the stack of jerseys yet to be chosen and making that choice in my mind's eye. Then I vividly remember an older teammate shouting, "Hey, look, it's Junior Sobo" as I trotted out for the team picture. You see - Sobo has always been my nickname. It was a witty play on words at the time, but my teammate made the same correlation I did that day. I loved watching Seau play, and I hoped I could play with just a fraction of what he did while on the gridiron.

The other similarity I apparently shared with Seau is that I suffered from depression. While it hasn't been confirmed Seau did, the signs are certainly present.

The illness literally took years of my life. There is a period in time where I accomplished as little as a human possibly could. I joke to this day about how I should have been a doctor, because I spent so many years in college. But the real reason was a result of this debilitating disease.

The fact I suffered from this illness - and yes, it is an illness - made me feel weak. No one was harder on themselves than I. And it all contributed to my problems. As a former athlete who only played for a short period within the grand scheme of my lifetime, it's hard to imagine what former professionals endure after the glory of battle fades.

These problems continue to pop up with numerous current or former pro athletes as well, and it should not be ignored. Former NFL players Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling each committed suicide within the past year. Duerson shot himself in the chest, much like Seau, because he wanted his brain studied for the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. I can't even start to explain the medical intricacies of what that entails, but - in short - its damage the brain sustains from multiple concussions. Symptoms of CTE include dementia, memory loss, aggression, and, yes, depression.

Seau's family has agreed to have Junior's brain tested by Boston University where groundbreaking research is being done on this malady.

NBA great Jerry West may not have gone to the extreme of these aforementioned cases, but the "Logo" discussed how he would mentally "check out" due to depression while acting as the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers. West discussed how he wouldn't even watch games at times. Instead, he would go see a movie.

Oscar de la Hoya, boxing's "Golden Boy", admitted in September he had fallen into a cycle of alcohol and drug usage. He even contemplated suicide.

Kenny McKinley is a name even rabid sports fans may not remember. He's a name I can't forget. McKinley was South Carolina's all-time leading receiver when he left Columbia. After his first season with the Denver Broncos, McKinley shot himself. Why this death sticks out is the same reason many of these depression related deaths do. After McKinley's death his teammate's said, "But, he was always so happy."

That's why depression is a vicious bitch. It's usually the life of the party who is the one suffering from it. It's the one who craves attention who can't stand the site of hisself or herself. They'll drink the most. They make everyone laugh. But, they're dying inside.

"Junior was outspoken, jovial and such a happy person," former San Francisco 49er George Visger told the San Jose Mercury News. "But he played 20 years at middle linebacker, bumping heads every single day. And for him to go over the edge like this, it's obvious football is part of this."

Those who suffer from depression don't tell you how a random song makes them weep when they're driving a car. They don't say how they pop pills like they're using a Pez dispenser. They don't tell you when it's a cry for help. It has to be recognized. And sometimes it's too late.

All of these men are victims. They're victims of their own hormonal imbalances. They're trapped in their minds. And it's nearly impossible for each of them to pull themselves out of the blackness they envision when they look at themselves in a mirror.

I empathize with all of these men. They're pain may not be tangible, but it's certainly real.

My ego used to get the best of me. I had ambition. I believed I was destined for great things. Depression laughed at that notion. But as de la Hoya pointed out, maybe I did do something special getting past my downfalls.

"This is the biggest fight of my life," de la Hoya told Univision in his revealing interview. "I could put all my opponents in one ring and battle all of them, but this monster is going to be the toughest fight of my life."

Finally, suicide is often described as a selfish act. But, we can't stand in the place of those who make that choice, particularly if they're suffering from maladies which have gone undiagnosed or untreated for far too long.

The first step is realizing there is a problem. The next is getting help.

You are the one who can make us all laugh

But doing that you break out in tears

Please don't be sad if it was a straight mind you had

We wouldn't have known you all these years

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