Suicides Are Not “Valiant”

In some way, we continue to look at suicide as “someone else’s” problem.

Until everyone is affected by it.  There are too many angles to deconstruct the suicide of former NFL All-Pro lineman Junior Seau for me to write about.

As someone who has battled depression and had suicidal tendencies a decade ago, I feel that I need to address several sub-topics within this story.

  • The medical research groups that were calling Seau’s family, hours after his death, requesting to examine his brain for possible concussion damage due to playing football, frankly, was unnerving to me.  His family is grieving, and yet researchers were lining up to be the first to examine his brain for any damage.

I understand the importance of science and research, but they couldn’t wait for a few days?  That was the most disturbing sidenote of this story to me.

  • For those who have already concluded that Seau’s suicide was linked to the concussions he had sustained while playing, stop it.  We don’t know if it was brain damage or not…at this point.  Not all football players commit suicide because of brain damage.  For that matter, how many Americans have suffered concussion-like symptoms and committed suicide?

Kenny McKinley didn’t take his own life because of brain damage.  He was depressed.  Gregg Doyel reaffirmed, to a point in his column Friday evening, what I wrote after McKinley’s death:  you are not less of a man if you seek help.  Did Junior Seau seek help?  If he did, was it effective?  If he didn’t, what was his reasons?  We will never know that.  Making the assumption that getting whacked in the head too many times led him to kill himself seems to be the easy thing to conclude.

And it shouldn’t. There are too many questions that has no answers to in respects to the death of Junior Seau.

  • Which leads me to something that has become very disturbing pattern:  committing suicide for the noble cause of medicine.  The thought that Seau would end his life so that his brain can be examined is borderline insane, in my opinion.  Then I thought of former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson.  What would make a person end their life in the name of medical research?  It feels, to me, like a selfish act.  It’s a harsh way of saying it, but what Duerson did, was selfish.

He’ll never know what the results are.  His family will, albeit still suffering over his decision, which made no sense in the first place.

No research group or anyone conducting a study is that desperate for someone to kill themselves, so they can donate a part of their body for research.

No other person, athlete or not, commits suicide to help medical research.  They end their lives because they have either given up on life, depressed and can’t find a way to end the mental pain, or worse, to end physical pain, a la, mercy killing, that Dr. Jack Kevorkian became a household name for.

In an Associated Press story on Friday, former New Orleans Saints Kyle Turley was quoted in the following:

“Somewhere, the wires got crossed and he unfortunately decided to end his life.  But in his last moment — and I will without a doubt believe this until the day I  die — Junior Seau ended his life in a valiant way.”

– Kyle Turley, as reported by AP writer Paul Newberry

I call bullshit on Turley.  No one dies valiantly by suicide.  That is sick, and, more importantly, the most selfish statement I have ever heard.  Turley doesn’t get it.  He will never get it.  I know he has had dealt with personal and health issues, but this is a slap in the face to the families and friends of people who have taken their own lives.

And no, Dave Duerson didn’t make it easy to understand the “torture” he was going through.  Duerson and Seau made it harder to understand…and painful for those around them.

Hey Kyle, tell the families you have insulted, to their faces, that their loved ones’ suicide was a “valiant” gesture.

Junior Seau, Duerson, and others who have ended their lives are not valiant.

It’s senseless and a waste.  If Duerson was concerned about possible brain damage he sustained during his playing days, there were other ways to help with the research.

Putting a gun to your chest shouldn’t be one of them.  Ever.

  • The ever-increasing lawsuits that former players are filing against the NFL has watered down the authenticity of the concussion issue.  Sadly, some of them are in it for a money grab, which makes it difficult for those who may have a legitimate case.  For those who do have a legitimate reason, they will have a harder time trying to prove their case.

It’s because they chose to play football.  No one forced them to.  They knew the risks of playing including sustaining injuries that would linger after their careers were over.  That is the cold-blooded truth, even if we choose to deny it.

If I chose to smoke and I read the Surgeon General’s warning on the cigarette pack, and I light up anyway, how hypocritical is it for me to sue the tobacco industry for something I was warned not to do, but I did it anyway?

So, this is as far as I’ll go on this subject for now.  I can’t say this enough to men who are contemplating suicide:  you are not less of man if you seek help.  Stop acting like you can handle this yourself.  Call someone, get help.  I did 10 years ago.

Why am I still here and not six feet under?  Because I didn’t want to miss family event or something a friend did.  I didn’t want to miss history take place.  I didn’t want to miss something that could give me hope.

That last sentence is what keeps me going each day.  Don’t be a selfish valiant hero.


Suicide Knows No Boundaries, Even in the Locker Room

Kenny McKinley, a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, committed suicide Tuesday night. (Associated Press)
Earlier this month I wrote an entry about mental health and sportsNew York Giants offensive lineman Shawn Andrews, along with Kansas City Royals pitcher Zack Greinke, faced either skepticism or support when they came out in public about their struggle with dealing with depression.

On Tuesday, second year Denver Broncos Wide Receiver Kenny McKinley was found dead in his apartment in suburban Denver.  The initial cause of death was an apparent suicide.

“Suck it up” is no longer relevant as a way to snap out of depression.

You know, we get too wrapped up in our opinions of athletes as being selfish, boorish, disconnected from the realities of the world.  But, as a reminder that is all too common when stories like this is brought up, athletes are people, not gladiators, robots, and superfreaks.

No amount of money, fame, and notoriety will keep depression, schizophrenia, or various mental illnesses at bay.  It cuts across all socioeconomic statues, race, sex, and cultures.  We see it as a cry for help or a selfish act.  Someone will say that they are “okay” but is fighting an internal war within themselves. There may have been signs that McKinney was not himself, but it’s so easy not to catch the red flags.

In his column today, Denver Post columnist and ESPN’s “Around the Horn” panelist Woody Paige can attest to the red flags and the signs that his friend caught when Paige contemplating suicide.

Nevertheless, sports is treated as entertainment by us the fans, but the reality and daily grind of life we deal with is not immune to those who pick up a ball and run around a field all day.

McKinney wasn’t a first-round pick, wasn’t making double-digit millions of dollars per year, and was not highly sought after.  He was a 5th-round choice by Denver, making $385,000, and recently had surgery on his knee that placed him on injured reserve, thus ending his season before it began.  McKinney wasn’t a starter.  He was competing to stay on the team and play. The disappointment of not being able to play had to weigh on his mind heavily to a point where disappointment became failure and fell into despair and sadness.

Former First Lady Betty Ford (Anna Moore Butzner/The Grand Rapids Press, via Associated Press)

To the notion that he could afford to get help is different than seeking help.  You can “buy” help and not learn anything like Lindsay Lohan.  Betty Ford “seeked” help for alcoholism and won the battle of the bottle.  Secondly, athletes are as mentally “fragile” than we think they are.  Some put on the facade of a “superman” and “handling pressure” when privately they might be consumed with the fear of failure, high expectations, and outside personal issues so they can keep us happy and entertained so we can escape our problems.

Mental illness can no longer be swept under the rug in place of machismo and the alpha dog mentality in the locker room.  With the continuing discussion and studies of concussions and brain injuries in football, there could be a strong possibility that could link brain injuries to mental health or other neurological disorders and conditions.

But today, more than ever, it is not the time to ask “why” McKinney took his own life and the consequences of it.  Mental health isn’t some minor thing to shake off.  It takes acceptance, time, “mental” rehab, and the necessary tools to live each day, without feeling that the world would be better off without you.

You are not less of a man if you admit that you need help…to get your mental state of mind healthy again.

National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If you want to know more about mental illnesses, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Iowa is having their annual walk on October 2nd at Water Works Park.  NAMI Iowa also have information and materials on hand to help you understand mental illness and depression.  Call them at 515-254-0417 or 800-417-0417.