MVP Sports Channel

Read & Recognition | The Gift | Seau

Nothing stings like the loss of someone who is special in our lives.  This week, not only the NFL, but the entire sports world lost a man-child, a Samoan warrior, an NFL superstar when Junior Seau committed suicide.

The immediate shock wave brought the sport of football to a halt amid the fallout of alleged bounties for “taking players out” of a game through injury.  We as fans, the media and the league were prepared for the announcement.  In Seau fashion, we were caught unguarded against the most devastating news and blasted from the blind side.

Players, fans and even those of us in the media were first stunned, then shocked, then emotional.  I’m not alone, but I’ll admit it. I cried a tear or two.

Prayers were said for the Seau family.  Hearts were broken for the man.  Questions arose for the sport.

Of course, with the office of the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell handing out punishment for players on the same day, immediately minds began connecting the dots, so to speak.   The very message sent by the commissioner was that players’ safety is at the top of the priority list for the NFL.  Protect the brand at all costs is the way marketing departments would interpret it.  Both are accurate.

Although this will be a platform for the multitude of players, attorneys and those protesting the violence of the sport (for personal gain), I caution against jumping to conclusions.

Seau was indeed a football player.  As a matter of fact, I believe he may have been one of the most instinctive to play the position an without question he played with the enthusiasm of a little boy.  His passion for the game was remarkable.  His passion for people is legendary, which is the reason I’ve looked beyond his occupation.

More than a gifted linebacker, Seau was a product of the Samoan culture.  Although I never met Seau, I’ve watched him play through his career.  We often feel a personal connection with those we’ve watched for such a long time, but I wanted to know more about him, his culture and upbringing.  What made him the man he was?  Several articles into my research, the following from a cultural website struck me again, completely from a different perspective.

  “Fa’a Samoa, means the Samoan Way. This is an all encompassing concept that dictates how Samoans are meant to behave. It refers to the obligations that a Samoan owes their family, community and church and the individuals sense of Samoan identity. The concept of respect is also very important. You must always respect you betters, this includes those older than you, matais, ministers, politicians doctors and teachers. This unquestioning demand for respect is taking its toll in modern Samoa as the younger generation, which is invariably better educated than its predecessors, constantly finds itself trying to balance the demands of a conservative Samoan society with its knowledge of the world, increasingly gathered from overseas education and experience. This has lead to one of the highest suicide rates in the world.”

I sat staring at my laptop after reading the last line.  The bigger picture came into focus and my heart broke further for I realized Tiaina Baul “Junior” Seau, Jr. had been engaged in battle most of his life.  He was torn between the world and his beliefs.

He had a passion for his beloved hometown of San Diego, CA.  Collegiately, playing at USC allowed him to play for his hometown and his culture.  He even hoped aloud to friends, despite being projected to go in the second or third spot of the 1990 NFL draft, he wanted to drop down to the San Diego Chargers in the fifth spot.  His wish was granted.

The linebacker became a 10-time All-Pro and was selected to 12 Pro Bowls.  Seau was named to the NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team and was recently inducted in to the Chargers Hall of Fame.

Seau achieved beyond what most even dream.  However, the higher he climbed he must have struggled even more with his differences of self and surroundings.  Given the reports of previous suicide attempts by crashing his vehicle, his war must have been of epic proportions.

If only Seau had been focused on the gift he was given to relate and reach other people.  He like most professional athletes was given a special ability to impact those around them. It is a gift, but comes with a large price and heavy weight.  “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…”

Careers in sports are fleeting.  They can end in a moment from injury as the Yankee’s Mariano Rivera’s torn ACL and torn meniscus coupled with his age, 42, may have shown him the exit door.  Others are cut from teams because of the newest class offers youthfulness and fresh legs.

They may also end after much success and an extended period of play and on the individuals own terms.  Still it is tough for the adjustment of not being a player, a position or a team member.  Often when the only career one knows is concluded, turning the page is difficult when given the time to face the individual in the mirror.

Seau and others have fought through injuries and adversity before on the field, on the court and diamonds.  Concussions are part of the game, so there is a certain amount of expectation and preparation.  It seems facing life after the game is the greatest contest because the player’s opponent is self.

The final play happens for everyone who ever begins, but the opportunity is the gift.  The gift can then be given to others many times over through their life beyond the game.  Insight for the game, an ambassador for compassion, a representative for your culture, these are just a few things Seau offered us.

For a 43 year old who possessed all that is good about sports, we wished he had many more years to receive your gifts.


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