John J. Leddy, MD, associate professor and director of the University at Buffalo Concussion Clinic and Barry S. Willer, PhD, professor and the clinic’s research director consider the possibility that former NFL player, Junior Seau, who was found dead on May 2, may have been suffering from concussion-related depression.
What was your response when you first heard about Seau’s death?
The pattern of behavior, including the domestic violence incident just a month or so ago and the violent end to his life, is reminiscent of other former players struggling with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He may have shot himself in the chest so his brain would be preserved and examined for CTE. Junior Seau made a choice to end his life rather than expose his family and friends to his untethered anger. Our response is one of sorrow for him and his family. We wonder how many other former players are living with the consequences of CTE.
How significant is Seau’s long football career in terms of possible exposure to concussion?
Junior Seau was one of the best linebackers to play the game of football. The position he played is considered very high risk for repeated sub-concussive blows and therefore at high risk for CTE. Sub-concussive blows are at a force lower than that which cause observable concussion, but sufficient to cause temporary disruption of brain function. Repeated sub-concussive blows create damage much greater than one concussive blow.
What would you hope to learn from an examination of Seau’s brain if that takes place?
We assume that examination of Junior Seau's brain will take place at Boston University (BU) and we expect they will find evidence of CTE. We are currently in discussion with the research team at BU to develop a research protocol to determine CTE in those still living with the disease. This requires advance magnetic resonance imaging and we are developing a pilot study to look at former Bills and former Sabres. In addition to BU researchers, we are collaborating with local researchers in neurology, neurosurgery, orthopedics and the UB School of Public Health. We have some local funding for initiation of the study from the Robert Rich family foundation, the Sabres Foundation, Ralph Wilson fund, and PUCCS (Program for Understanding Childhood Concussion and Stroke).