Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, considered one of the best National Football League defensive players of his generation, was found dead at his home in Southern California on Wednesday from a gunshot wound to the chest in an apparent suicide, police said. He was 43.
Oceanside police chief Frank McCoy told reporters that authorities had received a call from a young woman who said she was Seau’s girlfriend, and that she had found him wounded and unconscious in his beachfront home just north of San Diego.
The death was at least the third apparent suicide by a former NFL player since February last year, when former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson killed himself in a case that led to increased scrutiny of the effects of head injuries in football.
Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection, played most of his 20-season career with the Chargers, but also spent time with the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s. His last NFL season was in 2009.
Seau’s mother, Luisa, was weeping as she spoke before TV cameras outside her son’s house, where family members and friends gathered as police continued to work at the scene.
“I pray to God please take me, leave my son, but it’s too late,” she said.
He was inducted last year into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame, and was expected to be considered for the National Football League Hall of Fame. He will become eligible for induction in 2015.
Seau’s death was being investigated as a suicide, police said. However, Seau did not have a documented history of concussions, although he did miss several games with leg and chest injuries, according to the New York Times.
In 2010, hours after his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence, Seau drove his car off a cliff in what he said at the time was an accident. Seau said he fell asleep at the wheel, and prosecutors later declined to file charges in the domestic violence complaint.
His death came less than a month after former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling shot himself to death at age 62. Easterling had been diagnosed with dementia.
Hundreds of former NFL players and their families have joined in legal action against the NFL, claiming negligence for not doing enough to lessen the risks from head injuries.
Duerson’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL, claiming a series of concussions he suffered during his NFL playing career damaged his brain.
The league, in the face of criticism, has focused in recent seasons on health and safety issues. It has cracked down on hits to the head, and stiffened rules that prohibit players using their helmets as a weapon by making contact head-first, which is subject to fines and suspension for repeat offenders.
At Seau’s home, across the street from the Pacific Ocean, his mother sat on the driveway next to a coroner’s van and sang a song or hymn. More than 30 family members and friends joined in before the van carrying Seau’s body left the property.
Luisa Seau followed the van down the driveway with her arms outstretched, crying and wailing, and was held back by several people. On the dashboard of the coroner’s vehicle was a Chargers placard.
“Everyone at the San Diego Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now,” the team said in a statement released on its Facebook page. “We ask everyone to stop what they’re doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family.”