Junior Seau was one of the defining linebackers of the ’90s and the first part of the 2000s. This was especially true among the players themselves. Across three teams and two distinct eras, he is a major part of the formative stories of many of the NFL’s biggest names, including Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
His sudden death in 2012 was a turning point for the NFL. Due to Seau’s widely beloved status, his sudden suicide cast a pall over the entire league. And the details, involving long-term suffering from Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), played a significant role in changing how the NFL addressed head injuries.
Let’s examine Seau’s illustrious career, the circumstances of his death, and how much he was able to leave his family with after he passed.
Who was Junior Seau?
Starting in 1990, Seau played for 20 seasons in the NFL. He was a marquee name during his initial run with the San Diego Chargers, which included a Super Bowl appearance in 1994. After a short stint with the Miami Dolphins, Seau’s real second act started when he joined the Patriots as a beloved veteran figure.
Across his four seasons, he made a big impression on his teammates. Tom Brady, in particular, had glowing praise and pushed for his eventual induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It wasn’t a hard case to make, however. The Samoan superstar racked up a total of 12 Pro Bowl appearances. According to Pro Football Reference, Seau racked up 545 tackles and 56.5 sacks across his career.
Seau struggled with depression and insomnia after he retired, two symptoms associated with sustained head trauma. In 2012, he died by suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He gave no indications to friends or family that he intended to end his life.
Junior Seau’s net worth at the time of his death
At the time of Seau’s passing, he had an estimated net worth of $12 million. His total career earnings were $28.2 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. He did not have similar levels of earnings after his retirement, which is common for players who don’t transition to coaching, executive positions, or sports media.
He owned a restaurant in San Diego, which closed after his death. In a press release put out after Seau’s death, the restaurant explained why their doors wouldn’t stay open. “Without Seau’s charismatic leadership, it was felt that the future profitability of the restaurant could be in question.”
Much of Seau’s effort off the field — when he was a player and in retirement — was spent on charity work. The Junior Seau Foundation is still ongoing, and focused on supporting disadvantaged youth, in the San Diego area. Seau earned a Volunteer Service Award personally from then-President George W. Bush in 2005.
How Seau’s untimely death pushed the NFL to improve
Although Seau did not leave a suicide note, his death had similarities to that of former linebacker Dave Duerson. Duerson struggled with symptoms of CTE, and shot himself in the chest specifically so his brain could be examined posthumously. While it isn’t clear if this was an explicit request from Seau, this allowed his brain to be fully examined after his death.
Boston researchers requested to examine Seau’s brain, and with the blessing of his family, released the results. The examination revealed his brain suffered from a degenerative disease, and had abnormalities associated with CTE. This raised the alarm further in the press, and among football fans, to push the NFL to better protect their players.
The NFL has since put in stringent new helmet standards, which in turn encouraged drastic innovations from the manufacturers themselves. They also set up a fund to retroactively compensate players and families who dealt with the effects of developing CTE in the NFL. However, Seau’s family turned down this offer. They instead settled directly with the NFL for an undisclosed sum.