The NFL world mourned two of its own — in similarly tragic circumstances — eight years ago.
Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, a San Diego Chargers legend, died by suicide that May. Later that year, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher died by suicide a day before his team played.
The sudden deaths of both players — one retired, another in the prime of his career and life — forced the NFL to finally take action on concussions and brain trauma.
Junior Seau is a Hall of Fame linebacker
Junior Seau is one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. That is why he landed a spot on the NFL 100 All-Time Team last year.
The fifth overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, Seau made 12 Pro Bowls and six first-team All-Pro teams. Seau totaled 45.5 sacks, forced 11 fumbles, recovered another 18, and snagged interceptions in 20 seasons.
The bulk of that came with the San Diego Chargers, where Seau played from 1990-2002. Seau’s 163 approximate value trails only longtime Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers (204) for the highest-score in team history.
Seau also played for the Miami Dolphins (2003-05) and New England Patriots (2006-09).
Jovan Belcher played four NFL seasons
Undrafted out of Maine in 2009, Jovan Belcher spent his entire four-year career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Belcher totaled 257 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and a sack in 59 career games. He started 44 of those games and joined the Chiefs’ lineup as the starting left inside linebacker late in the 2009 season.
Belcher also saw sizable action on special teams. Pro-Football-Reference credited Belcher with 28% of the Chiefs’ special teams snaps in 2012.
Belcher and Seau each died in 2012
Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau each died in 2012.
Seau died by suicide on May 2, 2012, at his home in Oceanside, Calif. Belcher died by suicide on Dec. 1, 2012, in the parking lot at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
Belcher also shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Parkings.
After each death, medical reports determined both linebackers suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy at the time of their deaths. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease as a result of repeated brain trauma.
Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher’s deaths changed the NFL forever
Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher weren’t the first former NFL players to die by suicide. But their deaths and the ties to CTE served as a wake up call for the NFL.
Former Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson also died by suicide in February 2011. Neurologists at Boston University confirmed later that year that Duerson suffered from CTE.
The NFL announced changes to the league’s concussion protocol in 2013. Physicians not affiliated with any NFL team, known as an Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant, would work with teams on the sidelines and identify concussion symptoms.
The NFL previously created a rule, the Madden Rule, where a player diagnosed with a concussion had to leave the field immediately and could return total all until he was medically cleared.
The NFL has added other rules throughout the years, including banning the Oklahoma Drill and increased penalties for helmet-to-helmet hits. Players, including Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, have increasingly self-reported concussion-like symptoms.
According to NFL Media, 485 concussion evaluations were performed during games last year.
According to The Washington Post, the NFL said players suffered 224 concussions during the 2019 preseason and regular season. Although that was up from the 214 concussions in 2018, it still marked a major drop from the 281 concussions in 2017.
How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.