Tragic Death of Seau Points to Importance of Sports Ministry
by Tommy Young
The tragic death of Former NFL linebacker and surefire Hall of Famer Junior Seau rocked the football world. Seau, 43, apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on May 2, 2012, at his home near San Diego, Calif.
As news surrounding the details of Seau’s death surfaced, there was a tremendous outpouring of emotion from current and former NFL players, as well as those on the periphery of the game. ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen described the moment he learned of Seau’s death as, “One of those moments that your breath is taken away and it smacks you right in the gut.”
Marcellus Wiley was a teammate of Seau’s when both men played for the San Diego Chargers in 2000-01. Wiley, also an NFL analyst for ESPN, could hardly control his emotions as he spoke about his friend. Wiley described Seau as someone that, “always kept that smile; he was always gregarious.”
Watching Wiley made me think just how important what we do here at Athletes in Action really is.
I am in no way trying to trivialize Junior Seau’s death. The circumstances surrounding his death are tragic. The pain and loss his family is experiencing are real. But what Athletes in Action aims to do is build relationships with athletes on every level – including the elite, professional level – and to strengthen their spiritual relationship through a growing and active relationship with Jesus Christ.
Please understand, I am not saying that Christians do not commit suicide, or that praying to Jesus will be a quick fix. Christians – even devout, sincere Christians – can suffer from very real depression. That season of life can be very dark and scary even for Christians who are strong in their faith. I found one of Wiley’s quotes to be rather telling.
“Junior was always trying to help the team before helping himself,” Wiley said. “Junior always wanted you to see him at full strength. He didn’t want you to see him at his weakest moments.”
A teary-eyed Wiley went on to make the connection between Seau’s behavior in his professional life with his personal life. “Junior did it his way,” Wiley said. “If Junior was hurting, you knew, but you just didn’t see it.”
Every team in the NFL has a chaplain and there are numerous ministries, including AIA, that are in place to support and help athletes in their time of need. Again, I am not saying, “Oh, if only Junior would have gone to the AIA staff members in San Diego or Miami or Boston, they would have been able to talk him out of it, and he would be alive today.”
What I am saying is having AIA or any other solid Christian ministry in place to help athletes is important. Having a presence on every team may not work every time, but for AIA, building into the lives of the athletes and having someone available to be a sounding board and to offer spiritual guidance and practical advice is key.
Wiley lamented, “We were there for you, man. We knew you was a superstar, but come and tell us you needed us.”
Comments by Lorenzo Neal, one of Seau’s teammates on the Chargers, might shed some light on the circumstances surrounding his emotional state.
“As a kid, we want to play ball at a professional level. All those years, you play at a high level… and then when it’s gone, it’s not the crash that kills you but the sudden stop,” Neal said. “You are no longer ‘that guy’ and the surreal ends and you are in the real world. Sometimes I think it’s too hard for some guys to handle.”
There may have been extenuating circumstances around some of the causes for Seau’s choices that are beyond the control of conventional methods. But choosing to seek some sort of help, whether it be Christian guidance, secular counseling or even medical treatment, could have had a better outcome for Seau and his family than the tragic decision to take his own life.
The choice to reach out for help is ultimately with the troubled individual. It is our job, however, to be there and to be available, not just for pro athletes or college athletes but for whoever needs someone to reach out. We are to direct them to God and, if need be, to other professionals that are more equipped than we are to help them find the resources they need to deal with their problems.
By Tommy Young, AIA Communications
(The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this editorial are those of the author, Tommy Young, and do not necessarily represent those of Athletes in Action or any other individuals with AIA.)
4. May 2012 04:05