08/22/2012 05:03 EDT | Updated 10/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Suicide in the NFL: a Deadly Trend that Can't Be Ignored


The suicide of former linebacker Junior Seau on May 2, 2012 came as a shock to his countless fans around the world. A well-loved icon in the San Diego sports community, the 43-year-old Seau had retired from professional football in 2010 following a long career as a linebacker in the National Football League with the San Diego Chargers, the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins.

Following his retirement, he operated a successful restaurant in Mission Valley, California and was actively involved in community work through his Junior Seau Foundation.

When his girlfriend found him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Oceanside, California, speculation arose over the similarity between his death and the suicides of NFL stars Dave Duerson in 2011 and Ray Easterling earlier this year.

Both Easterling and Duerson had committed suicide due to medical complications resulting from brain concussions and Easterling's widow is currently suing the National Football League over accusations of deliberately concealing risks linked to repeated head injuries. Despite his lengthy football career, Junior Seau had no significant history of brain injuries oncussions. No suicide note had been left at the scene of Junior Seau's death and there was no indication of foul play or forced entry.

An autopsy report released by the San Diego County Medical Examiner found no indication of brain trauma although toxicological analysis showed four different prescription drugs in his system. Seau had been on Ambien at the time of his death due to a long-time problem with insomnia, he was also being treated for orthopedic issues. The coroner's report added that Seau had not indicated any intention of killing himself although a 2010 incident in which he drove his vehicle off a cliff has been suggested as a previous attempt.

Seau's family has formally requested that his brain be sent to the National Institute of Health for further study. Whether or not brain injury is a factor, Seau's death is just part of a disturbing trend in recent years with former NFL players committing suicide in similar ways. Despite the NFL establishing new programs in 2007 to improve quality of life in retired players, including counseling and medical care through the NFL Player Care Foundation, the rise in suicide deaths shows that far more needs to be done.