Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Thoughts On Junior Seau's Suicide

After Junior Seau took his own life I had a need to write about it. Instead of doing so here I wrote about it on my School of The Legends wall. I realize most people who would read it here have already read it there but I wanted to make sure I could access it when necessary and the character limits on my sotl wall required that I break it up into 500 character chunks and it continues to move down my wall with every new post I do. So I cut and pasted the whole thing here just to keep it all in one place. The only alterations I made are fixing typos and breaking it into paragraphs. I hope some how some way my words will help someone who reads them.
I've been trying to gather my thoughts on Junior Seau's apparent suicide from almost the moment the tragic news broke. I put some of my real time thoughts on my twitter page but I didn't think that was enough so I wanted to expound a little bit here.

First off Seau's passing hit me like a ton of bricks. He was a hero and a role model to a lot of young football fans who grew up wanting to be just like him. He was only 5 years older than me but I was one of those fans who looked up to him as well. He played the game with such a relentlessness and ferocity that he was like the gold standard of effort you wanted to aspire to. More than that it was readily apparent that he LOVED the game. LOVED making plays. LOVED being out there with his teammates. He was out there having fun and that, to me, is what football is all about. And then he was almost just as accomplished off the field in terms of giving back to the community and doing charity work constantly. But the news that he took his own life also hit me for a different reason. Too many of my retired brothers are dying this way and unfortunately my life experience gives me some insight into why.

I am a pretty private person. Most people who interact with me on social media probably don't even realize how little they actually know about me. And that is by design. While other people choose to put every aspect of their life online, Id much rather keep my private life just that. But this is one time I feel compelled to open up a little. You see I have gone through a pretty bad bout of depression myself. And so I have a special appreciation for what Seau may have been going through. And the reason I am speaking up now is because I know that people who haven't gone through the kind of mental health issues that can lead to suicidal thoughts, generally can't relate to that mindset. But it makes perfect sense when you think about it. Few rational people would ever willingly take their own life. But mental health issues can lead you to a very irrational way of seeing the world. As a former player, albeit a lot less accomplished, I also understand that we are unique in some regards when it comes to having these issues. You see as a professional athlete, especially an NFL football player, you overcome many of the obstacles put in front of you by sheer force of will. Not strong enough? You lift harder. Not fast enough? You run more hills. Not skilled enough? You stay after practice and work on your craft. Hurt? You just play through the pain. And so when you are confronted with mood swings or being "in a rut" sometimes you feel like you should be able to just force your way back into being the person that you were or at least "happier". And when that doesn't happen you can find yourself even further down the rabbit hole.

I was raised in a community that mostly stigmatized going to see a mental health professional. Nobody wanted to be labeled crazy and there was this notion that if you had to tell someone else your problems that was a sign of weakness. Even today I had someone tweet me that Seau was "weak" and "took the easy way out" (that person is now permanently blocked). Those kinds of sentiments make people even more reluctant to seek the help that they need. And I know it seems like its easy enough just to tell someone when you are feeling depressed or suicidal but what a lot of people don't realize is that as those issues manifest themselves more and more that person tends to alienate the very people they would usually turn to for help. And even bigger than that at times, because your thinking has become so skewed, you don't trust those people not to turn away from you if you tell them your problems. I know with ex athletes there can also be this sense of shame that with all that we have accomplished in life for others, now we have to ask someone else for help. Also even if you reach out to a friend or family member they may not be able to help you.

I am a Christian but I know now that you can't "pray away" depression. It helps and as a Christian I recommend every believer pray but some times you need more than that. But even finding a psychologist or psychiatrist to talk to can be a daunting task for a guy who is used to going into the training room and getting whatever he needs. You probably need insurance which a lot of retired guys don't have, then you need someone to refer you to a good mental health professional. Failing that you have to go through the phone book and roll the dice. Even then when you find a good person to talk to the wait may be months before you can even see them. And you're talking about a person who has been taught probably as long as he has been playing that complaining is a sign of weakness to go through all of that of their own volition. It would probably be hard for most of us to do even if we didn't have any mental health issues, but when you are struggling with that as well it may be impossible to come to grips with and admit to yourself, if no one else, that you need help. How many times after a person commits suicide or attempts to commit suicide do we hear their family and friends say they had "changed"? Those changes many times aren't intentional and the person who is changing may not even realize it until its already close to being too late. I'm saying all this to say that we HAVE to change the way we all think about mental health issues.

Yes I believe in personal responsibility but sometimes the people around the person going through this issues, maybe even most of the time, can see the signs before that person even notices them. When that happens we have to be more willing to stick around and convince them to seek help rather than taking offense and keeping our distance. We also have to be more encouraging towards people who have these issues to try to dispel the stigma around getting help. That won't change until this attitude that its "weak" to seek help is done away with. This goes for anyone, not just retired players. I saw a recent statistic about how suicide is prevalent with our troops returning home from war. I can promise you those men and women aren't weak. But I worry that many of them though it would be a sign of weakness to admit to another human being that they were going through something that they couldn't deal with alone. Now I know people want to make assumptions about whether concussions and or CTE had anything to do with Seau's suicide.

I don't have the heart to make those kinds of leaps in logic so soon after his death. But I do realize that some folks will use this situation to question why some players, former and current, are still resistant to the new tackling guidelines and fines instituted by the NFL and Roger Goodell. I'll just say this, focusing on that stuff in my mind is the easy way out for the NFL. They don't have to spend any money to change the rules or fine players for "illegal" hits now. What would impress me and I bet other other players would be if they put their money where their mouth is and started funding more healthcare for former players without having to be asked or begged to. Put simply, most of us knew and know playing football comes with health risks, but if our health care costs were taken care of more than 5 years after we were done playing, as it is in other leagues, a lot of guys would be much better off. Many of our health issues, mental and otherwise, don't show up till more than 5 years after we are done playing anyway. But by focusing on fines and "illegal" hits it seems like more of a PR move than anything else. In closing there are two things I will point out that make us distrustful of this "new" approach by the NFL. One is as recently as 6 years ago the guy who headed up the NFL's position on concussion took the totally opposite position of what the consensus was outside of the NFL community about the danger of concussions and reentering a game. Its hard for most of us to believe that he wasn't just covering for the owners with that BS study and we haven't forgotten. Also as much as people have brought up Dave Duerson and his suicide today very few point out that at one time he sat on the disability board for former players that was absolutely notorious for denying benefits to former players, especially those dealing with brain injuries.

But tonight isn't really about all that, for me tonight is about trying to reach out to anyone, and especially former players like myself, who may find themselves having suicidal thoughts or even just "stuck in a rut" they can't seem to get out of. Please seek help. For the people that love them, make them seek help. And make them follow through! You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if nothing else before you do something you can never take back.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Roger Goodell as Richard Nixon

I was reading through the arbitrators decision to dismiss the grievance from Cowboys and Redskins and I got almost to the end before I found what I was looking for:
Finally, the Clubs suggest that enforcement of the Reallocation Letter as ratified by the March 27 Resolution might (depending on facts as to which they seek discovery) condone violation of the 2006 CBA and perhaps the federal antitrust laws. But, as the League argues, the remedy for any breach of the 2006 CBA is to be found in that agreement, which is not a source of public policy for this purpose. Moreover, anticompetitive behavior in 2012 of the sort the Clubs imagine is similarly shielded from antitrust inquiry, and any remedy must be found in the anti-collusion provisions of Article 17 of the CBA. The Clubs lack standing to enforce those provisions.
Now as I always say I'm nobody's lawyer, however it seems pretty clear that Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder at least hinted at the other owners colluding illegally in the uncapped season a couple of years ago. And the arbitrator makes no attempt to suggest they are wrong. Instead the other owners get off on what appears to be a technicality. Why? Because the NFLPA, under duress (Roger Goodell and nem reportedly threatened to make the 2012 salary cap lower than the 2011 salary cap if they didn't play along), agreed to the cap penalties so Jones and Snyder had no way to get relief. They couldn't even get to see evidence that may have proven their case. It immediately brought this Richard Nixon clip to mind...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What Am I Supposed To Tell My Kids?

I've resisted writing about the Trayvon Martin case. Not because I didn't have a lot to say about it, but because I didn't want to listen to the 911 tapes which I know I would have to do in order to do any piece justice. And also because I fear in this day and time nothing anyone writes will persuade the folks on the other side of the issue.

But I changed my mind.

I need to write at least this small part about this murder/manslaughter or whatever you want to call the gunning down of an unarmed 17 year old high school student, for my own well being.

You see, I watched over the course of the last few days as much of the discourse has centered around Trayvon Martin's hoodie and George Zimmerman's fear.

As much as I appreciate and support the Million Hoodie marches all around the country I do not think a hoodie has much to do with this crime.

Lets not forget that George Zimmerman didn't even mention what Trayvon Martin was wearing until the 911 operator asked him for a description.

And as much as there is a real and dangerous irrational fear of black men by some people in this country I also don't think that had much to do with this crime, either. At least not from Zimmerman's perspective.

Instead this crime is about a man who decided he would take the law into his own hands and ended up killing a child.

Yes a black child, and believe me I'm will not try to downplay the role race had in this crime. However it was still a child. That he was killed while walking home from the store to get snacks for his younger sibling would be no less tragic if it were a White child, or a Hispanic child, or an Asian child.

Nor would it be any less an outrage if the killer were Black, known to police and still walking free almost a month after the shooting.

What I do realize, however, is that some people in this country will never understand that many of us who are outraged about the killing of Trayvon Martin also believe that if Trayvon had been white his killer probably would have been arrested by now. Especially considering the history of how law enforcement works or doesn't work in this country at times. This kind of injustice has been documented to happen at a higher rate in our communities.

But because of that realization I also don't feel the need to waste my time trying to explain that aspect to those of you whom have made up your mind anyway.

Instead I would much rather try to get my point across by asking a question that applies to every parent, no matter race, creed or religion.

What should we tell our kids to do when they are followed and confronted at night by a stranger?

I ask because although I have taught my kids about "stranger danger" and although I've told them to try to run if approached by a stranger and although I've told them if they can't get away to fight back as though they were fighting for their lives because they just may well be, it turns out maybe I was doing it all wrong.

At least that is what some who are defending the actions of Mr. Zimmerman would have me, you and everyone else believe.

There are facts in this case and then there are assumptions. We don't know everything that happened that night but we do have a pretty clear set of facts.

1. Trayvon had a legal right to be in that neighborhood as he was visiting with his father there.

2. Trayvon Martin walked to the store and purchased Skittles and an iced tea.

3. Trayvon Martin was walking back home at night when George Zimmerman started following him.

4. Trayvon Martin was not in possession of any weapon at the time he was killed.

5. Trayvon Martin was outweighed by Zimmerman by over 100 pounds.

6. George Zimmerman was not a member of law enforcement.

7. George Zimmerman did not accuse nor have any evidence of Trayvon having committed a crime according to the 911 recording.

8. George Zimmerman admitted he was following Trayvon and the 911 operator advised him against it.

Based on those facts and just those facts, what would you have had Trayvon Martin to do differently?

Seriously, I want to know.

The truth is after other calls Zimmerman made we know that it wasn't Trayvon's hoodie that made Trayvon suspicious. Unless you really believe every other person Zimmerman called 911 on for looking "suspicious" was also wearing a hoodie.

George Zimmerman called 911 because that's just what he did when he saw someone he wasn't familiar with. And yes according to Mother Jones those people tended to be black. You can draw your own conclusions from there.

We also know that Zimmerman didn't kill Trayvon over fear. If he feared Trayvon he wouldn't have followed him and then gotten out of his car to pursue him.

If fear was a factor in all of this it was instead Trayvon Martin's entirely rational fear of George Zimmerman. A stranger he didn't know who had been following him at night. Remember, it was Trayvon Martin who ran away from George Zimmerman according to Zimmerman himself on the 911 call.

Let me say that again.

It was Trayvon Martin who ran away from George Zimmerman.

So if there was a person who was fearful here, the facts say that it was Trayvon, not Zimmerman.

And again, isn't that what we are supposed to teach our kids to do when followed by a stranger at night?

There is a report now that Trayvon Martin was seen on top of George Zimmerman as they were on the ground. Some will say that means Trayvon did something wrong and somehow brought the shooting upon himself. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee even asserted prior to his temporary resignation that he was sure Trayvon would "do some thing's differently" if he had it to do over.

Obviously because of the actions of George Zimmerman he will never have that opportunity. But I'm really sincerely confused about this line of thinking.

Again I point back to the fact that Trayvon ran away from Zimmerman. Any confrontation at that point would be due to Zimmerman pursuing him. Even if Trayvon got the best of a grown man 11 years his senior and outweighing him by 100 pounds, how exactly is that Trayvon's fault?

Should he have assumed that a stranger pursing him after following him, at night, meant to do him no harm? Or should he have defended himself from said stranger?

As a father I can guarantee you I will teach my kids to do the latter. I would love to hear from a parent that would teach their kids to do the former because I have a hard time believing they exist.

At that point it was a fight. Even if you want to believe Trayvon started the fight are there people who believe that its ok to shoot and kill an unarmed person because you are losing a fight?


I can only hope that is not close to a majority opinion in this country.

The fact that Trayvon might have "won" the fight still does not negate the fact of why such an altercation happened in the first place. Because George Zimmerman decided that although he had not seen Trayvon Martin commit a crime, he could still pursue him as if he had.

I would only hope that my child would get the best of a stranger following him at night when he thought his life might be in danger.

And if there are people out there who think a parent is supposed to teach their kid not to defend themselves in a similar situation then I guess I'm never going to get that Father Of The Year award.

At the end of the day there will be plenty of folks who attempt to steer the conversation away from my very basic question. The reason is no rational person would tell their child to react the way some are saying Trayvon Martin should've reacted. But we should be mindful of that and keep the conversation focused on what we do know.

Trayvon Martin did not follow and confront George Zimmerman at night. He did not initiate their contact. In point of fact he did what most parents would teach their child to do in that situation. And he lost his life because of it.

And the man who did pursue and confront him that night, the man who didn't listen to the 911 operator, the man who was not a member of law enforcement, the man who shot Trayvon Martin who had nothing on his person but Skittles and an iced tea, is still walking the streets as a free man.

Everything else is just a distraction and should be treated as such.


Update: Saturday March 31 2012

I really did mean for the thoughts I posted last week to be the last ones I wrote on Trayvon Martin unless something dramatic (like an arrest) happened. However another part of the story that actually illustrates my point even more subsequently came to my attention.

The bit of information was something I noticed in this Orlando Sentinel article that published a "leaked" account of what George Zimmerman told police happened the night he killed Trayvon Martin.

A lot of people, myself included, were pretty disgusted at what appeared to be an attempt by law enforcement to use the media to help Zimmerman since of course Trayvon Martin's side of the story will never be told.

At least from his perspective.

But regardless of the motivation the story Zimmerman told police had at least one new detail that caught my eye:

Zimmerman told them he lost sight of Trayvon and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from the left rear, and they exchanged words.

Trayvon asked Zimmerman if he had a problem. Zimmerman said no and reached for his cell phone, he told police. Trayvon then said, "Well, you do now" or something similar and punched Zimmerman in the nose, according to the account he gave police.

Italicized words for emphasis

So let's get this straight, according to Zimmerman he was following someone at night who looked "suspicious", maybe was even on drugs and he lost sight of that person. Said person materializes almost out of thin air, closing to within arm's reach of Zimmerman before he is noticed. And then when this "suspicious" person acts aggressively the first thing Zimmerman thinks to do is go for

This is a guy who had a gun concealed on his person and a phone. And out of the two options he picked the phone?


We will get back to that in a minute but, again, lets look at this from Trayvon Martin's perspective.

You have this man, this stranger, following you in his car for no good reason at night who then gets out of the vehicle and pursues you on foot after you try to run away from him and then when you both somehow encounter each other face to face, he reaches for...something.

Even if we generously accept Zimmerman's account that it was a phone he was reaching for, how exactly could anyone expect Trayvon to know that's what it was?

And if your child was in that exact same situation how would you want them to react to a stranger that had been following and pursuing them at night when they had done nothing wrong, reaching for...something?

As I alluded to in the original post, Trayvon Martin had every reason to believe he needed to fight George Zimmerman as if his life depended upon it. And even as the story of Zimmerman's injuries has somewhat imploded I would still hope that Trayvon Martin was able to do some damage to a man whom he had to rightfully have feared.

For the folks who jumped all over this story to defend George Zimmerman by pushing his story that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor, I would certainly wonder how they would've reacted if it was Trayvon who supposedly went for something during this exchange.

Now a few others have mentioned this reaching for the cell phone business, but only in passing. I hope that as some point bring it up more forcefully because it really is a big deal. I think one way to look at this is George Zimmerman had no way of knowing who had seen what when he talked to the police. Why does that matter? Because if someone saw him reaching at all he would need to explain that. But lets run through a few common sense questions on that.

1. We know Zimmerman had already called the police so whom could have have possibly called at that point?

2. Where was his gun holster in relation to the phone he was supposedly reaching for?

3. Would YOU reach for your phone or your gun if you found yourself frightened and in that same situation?

And the last question which is rhetorical: How convenient is it that in Zimmerman's story Trayvon Martin punched him in the nose after he reached for his phone as opposed to if he had been reaching for his gun?

One more thing...

As I assumed there have been even more sideshows since this story has grown to national prominence. I understand why we get sucked in to focusing on stuff like people who weren't at the scene that night giving their description of what happened and even two pretentious media people using cable news air time to have a childish food fight. But remember this, the distractions will not help get justice for Trayvon Martin. Only continuing to keep our eyes on the prize and focusing on what's really important will.

That is what raised the awareness of this case enough to get the DOJ, FBI and even FDLE involved. And keeping the pressure on the powers in charge will likely be what helps to push them to act and arrest George Zimmerman.