In an op-ed for Sunday’s edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall discussed Junior Seau’s passing and the difficulty that NFL players have with depression.
“Looking at the situation with Seau and other cases with retired athletes, I think our focus should be more on why the transition seems to be so hard after football. As athletes, we go through life getting praised and worshipped and making a lot of money. Our worlds and everything in them — spouses, kids, family, religion and friends — revolve around us. We create a world where our sport is our life and makes us who we are. When the game is taken away from us or when we stop playing, the shock of not hearing the praise or receiving the big bucks often turns out to be devastating. The blueprint I am creating for myself will help not only other athletes, it will help suffering people all over.”
Marshall makes an excellent point. What happens when fans stop cheering their name? What happens when they’re not adored and admired? What happens when they stop getting everything handed to them in life?
That last question isn’t meant to be crass – it’s reality. Because of their gifted athletic abilities, players are privileged from a very young age. They’re used to people making them feel special and handing them opportunities. All of a sudden when that’s gone, what happens? Talk about a transition.
Marshall’s right – what happens when the lights finally go down? Many athletes only know one life and once that’s over, they often don’t know what to do. I talk to former athletes and a lot of them same thing: It’s jarring when their playing careers are over. Some know how to handle it, others don’t.
We can assume that Seau had mental troubles stemming from using his head as a battering ram for 20 seasons in the NFL. And if he had the same condition as Dave Duerson, then we’ll find out soon enough.
But maybe Marshall is right and concussions aren’t the only problem – they’re just part of a bigger, more frightening picture.