Honor Seau for character, not athleticism



MCT Campus

by Kenneth Leonard

MCT Campus
MCT Campus

Imagine spending your entire life wanting to be an astronaut. You spend your childhood staring at the stars and dreaming about it. You attend a prestigious school and study hard while simultaneously working to develop your body for the rigors of the NASA program. And finally, after years of training, you get to take a trip to the moon. It’s everything you hoped it would be. Years pass, and after several more trips, it’s time to retire. Sitting back on your porch, you spend your nights looking up at the sky, remembering what it was like on the moon, looking down at Earth, and you wonder what you could possibly do with your life that could compare to what you’ve already experienced.

Professional athletes experience much the same kind of feeling, a sensation mere mortals like you and me have zero possibility of understanding. We can’t comprehend the amount of pressure the pros are under on a nearly constant basis. I’m not talking about game-time pressure. That type of pressure is what pro athletes are prepared for, after spending years honing their skills in various competitive arenas. The real pressure comes from entourages, hangers-on, the media and fans. What could prepare an individual for the intense levels of scrutiny professional athletes experience when they are not on the field? Are people expected to transition from obscurity to superstardom without losing a part of themselves? In the end, do fans really care if athletes end up completely depleted of their own identities, having given up so much both on and off the field, by the end of their careers?

In the wake of Junior Seau’s tragic, shocking death, there has been tremendous public support for his family, and people have focused on his feats as an athlete as well as his accomplishments as a humanitarian. Seau was as defined by his generosity as he was by his ability to manage a defense. My sincere hope is that people will ultimately remember him as a generous, compassionate, kindhearted man first, and as a dynamic athlete second.

This isn’t just another column praising Seau, though. I’m not content to bask in the warm glow of Seau’s accomplishments and mourn the loss of a prominent member of the community. I want to know why this happened. I want to know what caused this tragedy. I knew Seau. I’ve met his children. I’ve spent time with the man, and everyone I know who also knew him is as shocked and horrified as I have been following the news of his untimely death.

So what happened? It’s hard to say. Seau was never the complaining type. He was aware of how people had come to expect him to act, and how people depended upon him to carry himself in a particular way. Seau was the perfect professional athlete when it came to establishing and maintaining a wholesome public persona. His personality was always on, and in personally witnessing him interact with hundreds of people, I never saw anyone walk away disappointed. He was completely unselfish with himself.

Maybe this was the problem. People with normal lives are able to be selfish when they need to be. You and I are able to get away from our families and friends when we need some time alone. Imagine a life where you can’t go to the grocery store or the movie theater without being mobbed by fans. How long would it take for you to wilt under that kind of pressure? Seau lived this way, constantly surrounded by people who always wanted something from him, for the last 20 years, and he took it all on with grace and humility, never turning anybody away. Anyone who wanted a moment to connect with him was accommodated, no matter how busy or stressed out he may have been. He wouldn’t let the fan see it. He wouldn’t let his own problems diminish their moment.

Any discussion about the psychological reasons for Seau’s death is speculative at this point. If we care about the welfare of professional athletes, we should start asking hard questions about how we relate to them. Do we really care about them, or do we use them up like gladiators? Do these human beings exist purely for our entertainment, or do we have a responsibility to care for them?

Athletes, let Seau’s death serve as a cautionary tale. You are entitled to your privacy and you are worth more than the sum of your athletic statistics.

Fans, it’s time to respect athletes for better reasons than how many Pro Bowl selections they have. In San Diego, let’s treat our athletes with the dignity they deserve as our fellow human beings. They look larger-than-life on TV, but at the end of the day they are still imperfect like us.


—Kenneth Leonard is an English junior.