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.


“Let Them Own It”

Recently, I’ve noticed how people are obsessed with getting revenge or demanding their recourse over things that have happened to them, or something that was said to them.  They feel the urge to respond to everything angrily and emotionally. 

No wonder why we’re on a one-way trip to a nervous breakdown. 

This week, a 2 minute video clip has made re-think how I feel about reacting to everything that is being said of me negatively, also how I was treated or had something done to me.  I would listen to it a few times, in order to fully understand the point. 

Let them “own it.” 

You don’t have to reply to everything that’s being said, demand something, or expect anything.  Let them “own it.”  Why?  As ESPN’s Colin Cowherd explains in the video clip below, they’ll feel guilty about it (mentally, and do what they can to hide it).  Secondly, on that same psychological line, you will get your own satisfaction and peace. 

Once you have discovered that, you have moved on.  No need to ask for recourse or compensation.  What’s done is done. 

Mentally, by walking away and letting them “own it”, you break free from obsessing about it, ruminating and being angry about it. 

Initially, you want to react, reply, and attack everything in your path, but eventually you have to free yourself mentally.  We’re big boys and girls.  You know how to move on with your life.  You should move on with your life. 

If you don’t walk away, that’s a you problem, and you’ll never move on. 

Fractured Lives

I was going to post a topic that merited a discussion, but I have something a lot more important to roll out this afternoon.

In the past, I have written about mental illness and suicide, and the ongoing misunderstanding and handling of individuals who are affected by mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar depression, among a few others.  I have also disclosed my personal battle with depression.


Jeffrey Krier battled mental illness. A judge rejected his family request to have him committed. As a result, he shot and killed a Keokuk County sheriff's deputy on Monday. (Photo submitted to The Des Moines Register)

On Monday, Jeffrey Krier, who had a long history of mental illness, fired upon Keokuk County authorities, killing deputy Eric Stein.  Krier’s family went to a judge to commit him to a facility, and the judge rejected it.

This tragic incident reminds you of another well-publicized tragedy involving mental illness.  I don’t have to remind you what it is if you live here in Iowa:  the death of Coach Ed Thomas.  In January, Jared Lee Loughner walked up to a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona and fired upon a crowd who were there to talk with U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Six were killed.  Loughner had a history of mental illness.

Last week, unbeknownst to everyone, another incident took place in Waterloo.  Police was called to a disturbance at a home.  A young man fled the scene and a car chase ensued.  The chase ended on the 4th Street bridge in downtown Waterloo, when the young man jumped into the Cedar River.  He floated down the river for 10 blocks before rescue crews were able to pull him out near the 11th Street bridge.

The kid’s name is Clifton Jenes, age 19.  Clifton is the son of Kim Sanders.

Kim Sanders is my cousin.

Clifton have battled mental illness for years.  His father committed suicide in 1993.


My cousin Kim and her son Clifton.

It is no surprise that there is a stigma in the black community in respects to mental illness.  The black community has a strong distrust of physicians and medical professionals.  Mental health is a “taboo” subject.  We prefer to “pray it out” than seek help.  Yes, faith is an integral part of our community and lives, but faith alone isn’t enough.

The suicide rate among black men has doubled since 1980, making suicide the third leading cause of death for black men between the ages 15 and 24, according to a column by the website Healthy Places in 2008.

It’s not a rosy picture at all.

Rather than hide it, Kim went public about Clifton’s battle with depression.  It’s an encouraging sign for me, because the more we learn about how devastating mental illness can be, the more people are willing to understand it, talk about it in public, and seek help.  I’m hopeful that this will signal a trend in the African American community, and at large, to not dismiss mental illness and sweep it under the rug.

I’m treading on thin ice here because my family is very private when it comes to talking about them in public.  There are lines I do not cross when it comes to putting my family in a public blog.  It is why with Kim talking about what her family has went through, I can write this without worrying about the reaction towards it.

I can’t say this enough, probably because there is someone out there I know, or don’t know, who doesn’t think it will happen to them or to someone they know.  Know what the signs of mental disorder is.  If someone isn’t “themselves”, depressed for longer than 2-3 weeks, or is thinking about what life would be like if they weren’t here, don’t screw around and make guesses.

Call for help.  Offer support.  Don’t dismiss it.

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.

Returning to work may not be all that happy

You may land a new job, but you may not be able to leave the baggage at the door...for good reason.

Landing a job can feel like a huge burden has been lifted off of your shoulders.  However, the stress, anxiety, and emotional strife continues to linger after getting back on the saddle.

Marty Orgel, a freelance writer for Marketwatch, writes about how those who have been through long-term unemployment are more likely to be in the red financially, worried about their status once they’re back in the workforce, and emotionally fragile, when they return to work.

Mentally, people who re-enter the workforce builds up a wall to protect themselves from being burned and betrayed by managers and companies, for fear of being let go again and starting over from scratch from the umpteenth time. Most mental health professionals say that this is normal.  But does it become a long-term problem that could come back to haunt anyone who continues to foster a sense of distrust and isolating themselves from opening up in the office?

I contend that it’s easy to give people the tools to how to deal with unemployment, albeit with a great dose of bureaucracy, but not enough tools to handle it mentally and emotionally.