Wednesday, May 02, 2012

NFL Suicides: 12 in 25 Years

Another American football player has died by suicide. That makes a dozen acknowledged suicides of relatively well-known National Football League (NFL) players in the last 25 years.

Junior Seau's girlfriend returned from her time at the gym to their home on the 600 block of South The Strand, Oceanside, California. She discovered Seau, 43, in a bedroom, a gunshot wound to the chest, a revolver near his lifeless body. Two weeks earlier, another retired NFL player had also died by suicide.
Tiaina Baul "Junior" Seau, Jr., (January 19, 1969 – May 2, 2012) was an American football linebacker. A ten-time All-Pro and 12-time Pro Bowl selection, Seau was a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
He played college football at the University of Southern California and was the progenitor of the "NFL-USC linebacker". He was drafted fifth overall by the San Diego Chargers during the 1990 NFL Draft, later played for the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, and retired from pro football in 2010.
Seau, who was found dead in his Oceanside, California, home on May 2, 2012, of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, is only the latest among several suicides among football players.

Had Seau attempted suicide before this incident? Seau drove his white Cadillac SUV off a coastal cliff at Carlsbad, California hours after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, on Monday morning, October 18, 2010.
An emergency crew found the 12-time Pro Bowler on the beach below the cliff and he was transported to a hospital where he was treated for minor injuries.Seau, who spent the bulk of his 20-season NFL career with the Chargers, was the lone occupant of the car.
Police said there was no evidence that alcohol was a factor in the crash.
The crash followed Seau's arrest late on Sunday evening on charges he assaulted his 25-year-old girlfriend.He was booked into the San Diego County Jail in Vista early Monday morning and posted bail after 3 a.m. PT and was released. His SUV went over the cliff afterward. Seau said he was going to meet his assistant, Hoffman, for coffee at about 9 a.m. PT, when his car slid off the road near the corner of the 101 highway and Palomar Airport Road. Through his attorney, he said the accident was because of the rain San Diego has been experiencing the past couple days, not any intentional action on his part. Seau claimed he fell asleep at the wheel.
It will be noted that NFL player Kendrick L. McKinley had killed himself on Monday, September 20, 2010, exactly a month before Seau's possible attempted suicide.

The role of concussions, which have been linked to suicides, is being called into question in the NFL. But, of course, we must not overlook the behavior contagion and copycats in what is occurring here. Erratic mood shifts and suicidal ideation appear to be directly related to the injuries to the brain. There is also a definite reason that Seau shoot himself in the chest. He was leaving a message that his brain, remaining intact, should be tested.

Junior Seau, Ray Easterling, David Duerson. Photo: TMZ.

Here's an overview of eleven other NFL players who have died by suicide in the modern era (1987-2012):

Ray Easterling (September 3, 1949 – April 19, 2012) was an American football safety in the National Football League. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 1972 and was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the ninth round of the 1972 NFL Draft.
In 2011, along with several other NFL players, including two-time Superbowl champion Jim McMahon, Easterling filed a federal lawsuit in Philadelphia, against the NFL over its handling of concussion-related injuries. Unlike a similar suit filed in Los Angeles a month earlier, this suit is the first to seek class-action status and potentially include many other players. Attorney Larry Coben, representing the plaintiffs, stated, "The big issue, for us, is they were told for decades to lead with their heads. The NFL would never admit that there's any correlation (to later health problems)."
Easterling died on April 19, 2012, at the age of 62. His death was ruled a suicide. His wife of 36 years Mary Ann Easterling said she will fight to continue the lawsuit despite her husband's death, and will urge the league to establish a fund for players like her husband who suffered traumatic brain injuries from their playing days.

Michael "Mike" Current (September 17, 1945 – January 16, 2012) was an American football collegiate and professional offensive lineman in the 1960s and 1970s.
On Monday January 16, 2012, Current died by suicide by shooting himself in the head with a 20 gauge shotgun at the scenic outlook at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge near Dallas, Oregon. Current was accused of sexually assaulting three victims, two girls and one boy all 14 or younger, at least five times between 2004 and 2010 in Marion County, Oregon. He allegedly used pornography, such as videos and photos, to elicit sex from the children.
On Tuesday January 17, 2012, Current was set to enter a plea on the charges. He faced a minimum of six years and three months for each of the five sex-abuse charges, a total of more than 30 years without parole, and no chance at reduced time. The Silverton Police Department had been looking into Current since June 17 and were investigating the possibility of other victims. Tara Lawrence, the attorney for the vicitms, indicated that she would be pursuing justice through the civil courts since Current's suicide did not allow the victims to get their day in court. "Our hope is that with Current's death, any additional victims may feel empowered to break their silence and speak out about their own abuse," Lawrence said.

David Russell Duerson (November 28, 1960 – February 17, 2011) was an American football safety in the National Football League (NFL) who played for the Chicago Bears (1983–1989), the New York Giants (1990), and the Phoenix Cardinals (1991–1993). He earned significant honors during his career, including selection to four consecutive Pro Bowls for NFL seasons 1985 through 1988.
Duerson was found dead at his Sunny Isles Beach, Florida home on February 17, 2011. The Miami-Dade County medical examiner reported that Duerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He sent a text message to his family saying he wanted his brain to be used for research at the Boston University School of Medicine, which is conducting research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) caused by playing pro football. He left behind three sons and a daughter from his marriage to ex-wife Alicia Duerson. On May 2, 2011 researcher neurologists at Boston University confirmed that he suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.

Kendrick L. McKinley (January 31, 1987 – September 20, 2010) was an American football wide receiver for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League. He was drafted by the Broncos in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He played college football at South Carolina.
McKinley was found dead on September 20, 2010, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. His death was reported as a suicide by local media, and later confirmed by members of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's office.
A 131-page report was released by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department on December 1, 2010, concluding the investigation into McKinley's death. It stated that depression over debt, injury and his post-playing career were the main factors for his suicide. The report stated that McKinley had a gambling problem and was deep in debt.

Shane Dronett (January 12, 1971 – January 21, 2009) was an American football defensive lineman, who played for the NFL's Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons between 1992 and 2002.
In 2006, Dronett began to exhibit paranoia, confusion, fear, and rage. According to his family, Dronett's behavior changed radically. He was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in 2007. Its removal did not alleviate Dronett's symptoms.
Dronett confronted his wife with a gun on January 21, 2009. As she ran for safety, he turned the gun on himself. His death was ruled a suicide by the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's office.
After his death, Dronett's brain was tested at Boston University School of Medicine's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Scientists determined that Dronett suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease associated with repeated head trauma. According to the co-director of the Center, Dr. Robert Stern, linemen are estimated to hit their heads about 1,000 times in each season they play. While those hits may not result in concussions, the repetitive lesser brain injuries are likely associated with the disease.

Andre Waters (March 10, 1962 – November 20, 2006) was an NFL defensive back who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals from 1984 to 1995. Waters was regarded as one of the NFL's hardest-hitting defenders, serving as an integral part of one of the league's top defenses. On November 20, 2006, Waters died by suicide in his Tampa, Florida home.
Waters ended his life by suicide shortly after 1:00 a.m. on November 20, 2006, according to the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office, dying of a gunshot to the head. He was at his home inTampa, Florida where he was found by his girlfriend. No suicide note was found.
Shortly after Waters' death, former Harvard defensive tackle and WWE wrestler Christopher Nowinski, whose wrestling career was ended by post-concussion syndrome and has since written a book about the dangers of concussions in contact sports, approached Waters' family and asked permission to have his brain tissue examined. After receiving permission, Nowinski had samples of Waters' brain tissue sent to neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu at the University of Pittsburgh. Omalu believed, having examined the tissue, that Waters sustained brain damage from playing football: he went on to state that this led to Waters' depression.
Omalu determined that Waters' brain tissue had degenerated into that of an 85-year-old man with similar characteristics to those of early-stage Alzheimer's victims. Omalu said he believed that the damage was caused and/or hastened by the numerous concussions Waters sustained playing football. Additionally, Omalu said that Waters would have been fully incapacitated within ten years.
The NFL declined to comment on Waters' case specifically. A member of the league's mild traumatic brain injury committee, Dr. Andrew Tucker, said that the NFL was beginning a study of retired players in 2006 to examine the more general issue of football concussions and subsequent depression.

Terry Luther Long (July 21, 1959 – June 7, 2005) was an American college and professional football player who was an offensive lineman in the National Football League (NFL) for eight seasons during the 1980s and early 1990s. He played college football for East Carolina University, and thereafter he played professionally for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL.
He died in 2005 from drinking antifreeze. Doctors studied his brain later and believe that brain damage from his football career contributed to his depression and later suicide.

Lawrence Morgan "Larry" Kelley (May 30, 1915 – June 27, 2000) was an American football player born in Conneaut, Ohio. He played end, for Yale University. While at Yale he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and Skull and Bones, and was the second winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1936, the year it was renamed in honor of John Heisman. His jersey number was 19.
To benefit his nieces and nephews, Kelley sold his Heisman Trophy at an auction in December 1999 for $328,110 to the owner of The Stadium Museum, Restaurant & Bar in Garrison, New York, where it now resides. His health was visibly failing by then after having suffered a minor stroke and having open-heart surgery, and on June 27, 2000, Kelley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Hightstown, ruled a suicide by the police. He was 85 when he died. He was survived by his fourth wife and 18 nieces and nephews.

Thornton Steve Stonebreaker (October 28, 1938 – March 28, 1995) was a professional American football linebacker in the National Football League. He played eight seasons for the Minnesota Vikings (1962–1963), the Baltimore Colts (1964–1966), and the New Orleans Saints (1967–1968). Son Mike also played in the NFL.
Stonebreaker died by suicide on March 28, 1995 by subjecting himself to carbon monoxide poisoning from a car exhaust.

Jeffrey Lawrence Alm (March 31, 1968 – December 14, 1993) was an American football player who played defensive tackle for the Houston Oilers of the National Football League.
According to witness, Alm and his best friend, Sean P. Lynch, had dinner at a Houston-area steakhouse on December 13, 1993. At 2:45 a.m. Central Standard Time the following day, Alm’s Cadillac lost control heading south on Intrastate 610 southbound at the 59 north exit ramp and Lynch was thrown out of the car through the passenger window to his death. Alm had been speeding and lost control of his 1993 Cadillac Eldorado on a curved exit ramp. After the crash Alm ran across the ramp and looked down an embankment towards the Southwest Freeway, discovering that his boyhood friend had been thrown to his death 30 feet below. Apparently distraught by his best friend’s death, Alm took out a pistol grip shotgun, fired two shots into the air and then shot himself in the head.

Michael Allen "Mike" Wise (June 5, 1964 – August 21, 1992) was a professional American football defensive end in the National Football League. He played five seasons for the Los Angeles Raiders (1986–1990) and the Cleveland Browns (1991). He was drafted in 1986 by the Raiders and appeared on the cover of a 1990 issue of Sports Illustrated. He wore jersey #90.
Wise was born in Greenbrae, California. He died by suicide at his home in Davis in 1992.

Larry Bethea (July 21, 1956 – April 24, 1987) was an American football defensive lineman who played six years in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys. He later played for the Michigan Panthers, Oakland Invaders and Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League. He played college football at Michigan State University.
Bethea was rumored to have a drug abuse problem dating back to his college days, and cocaine addiction was blamed for the problems he had during his adult life.
His troubles with the law began in 1985 when he pleaded guilty to setting three fires in Mount Rainer National Park in Paradise Washington. He was ordered to pay $1,000 dollars to the park to cover the cost of fighting the fires.
In 1986, he was jailed on charges of assaulting his wife and stealing his mother's life savings of $64,000 dollars. In 1987, he was given a suspended four-year prison term for stealing. The judge also ordered Bethea to serve two years on probation while repaying the money.
In the final incident, on April 24, 1987, police were called by an unidentified source who said the former football player had robbed two convenience stores. Bethea, 30, was later found in a friend's backyard with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right temple and a .38-caliber automatic pistol near his body. He was taken to Hampton General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:08 a.m. The gun used in the shooting and the two robberies was believed to be a weapon that was reported stolen from a parked vehicle in the city.


Tim White said...

Great post. I scoured the internet for a decent post regarding NFL player suicides and your post came up with the best info.

I linked your blog with my recent post >>

My blog is also on OpposingViews, so you are probably getting some nice traffic >>

Anonymous said...

baseball appears at roughly the same rate

Loren Coleman said...

Yes, Anon, MLB player suicides are more common than many know, especially in clustering and copycat situations. I have done an ongoing study of them too.

Here are some indications of my presentations and interviews detailing my research on baseball suicides:

"Boys of Summer, Suicides of Winter," Paper presented at the 22nd Annual Conference of the American Association of Suicidology, San Diego, California, April 14, 1989.

"Donnie Moore and the Burdens of Baseball," New York Times, July 30, 1989,

"The Moore Tragedy," Sports Illustrated, July 31, 1989,

ESPN SportsCenter (1989) and ESPN Classics (2001).

"Boys of Summer, Suicides of Winter: An Introduction to Baseball Suicide," by Loren Coleman, in Edward J. Rielly (ed.), Baseball and American Culture (NY: Haworth Press, 2003).

Also, there were appearances about Donnie Moore on ESPN's SportsCenter (1989) and on a documentary for ESPN Classics (2001).

Furthermore, there are postings on this blog about baseball player suicides,

purrlgurrl said...

Steroids and other performance enhancers have emotional/psychological/physical repercussions for a long time after use is discontinued.

Given the tremendous sums of money involved in professional sports the pressure to perform has to be relentless, leading many pro athletes to succumb to this substance abuse. In fact, this abuse is likely much more prevalent in pro sports than the few high profile cases come to light would lead us to believe.

It's not surprising that mental and physical health problems overwhelm pro athletes long after they leave the playing field. In this case, I'm afraid what really happened is an entire team wanted/needed that winning season so badly they risked their future health and emotional well-being to get it.

Anonymous said...

Another possible factor in major league athlete suicides: bankruptcy.