Former NFL defensive end Marcellus Wiley, who now serves as an analyst for ESPN, played with Junior Seau on the Chargers in 2001 and 2002. After Seau killed himself last year, Wiley remembered Seau in a televised ESPN segment. It was powerful, and tough to watch, as Wiley was overcome with still-raw emotion.
And today, as Seau was back in the news thanks to the confirmation that he suffered from the degenerative brain disease CTE, Wiley once again went on the air to talk about his friend, and how Seau’s struggles relate to his own, and anyone else who’s played football most of their lives. This segment was different from the one in May – the wounds aren’t as fresh, emotions weren’t running as high – but it was still compelling, and more than a little unsettling, to hear Wiley’s entirely understandable fears for his own long-term well-being… and his desire to brush those fears aside:
When Wiley said he wouldn’t want to know that he had CTE even if he did, it was reminiscent of a Scrubs episode, of all things. In it, a man learns his mother has Huntington’s disease, and because of the way that disease is inherited, there’s a 50 percent chance he has it too. He has the option to get tested and find out… but turns it down. While statistically were sure theres much less of a chance Wiley has CTE, the principle is the same: he doesn’t want to now if he can help it.
Of course Wiley and others who knew Seau were devastated by his death, but the clip above highlighted something else: hos suicide scared them, too, because it’s easy to imagine themselves being in the same situation. Football players know they’re in a dangerous game, but it’s easy to put that aside when you’re preoccupied with keeping your spot in the league. But it’s not easy to put aside when you see so many people like you with ruined brains. We wondered earlier today how many more Seaus there will be before fans stop being able to stomach the violence of the game. But maybe the bigger question is: how much longer can the players live with what they’re doing to themselves?