Published May 04, 2012
OCEANSIDE, Calif. – The family of former NFL star Junior Seau will donate his brain for medical study into the impact of repetitive concussions on football players following his shock suicide.
San Diego Chargers chaplain Shawn Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times that the family decided to allow access to researchers investigating the long-term effects of head hits "to help other individuals down the road."
Seau, who played pro football for 20 seasons, was found dead by his girlfriend inside their home in Oceanside, near San Diego, on Wednesday, with a gunshot wound to his chest.
The 43-year-old's suicide echoed the death of ex-Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who fatally shot himself in the chest, at age 50, 14 months ago.
After struggling with depression for many years, Duerson left a note for his family directing them to donate his brain to the Boston University School of Medicine for research into Chronic Traumatic Encephelopathy (CTE).
Researchers from the Boston school later ruled that Duerson suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions, which was a factor in bringing on his depression.
Boston's Sports Legacy Institute was competing with the Brain Injury Research Institute (BIRI) for access to Seau's brain, Pro Football Talk reported.
Dr. Bennet Omalu -- the chief medical officer for San Joaquin County, who cofounded BIRI -- flew into San Diego to participate in Seau's autopsy, ESPN reported, citing sources.
Although Seau left no note, the San Diego Medical Examiner's Office announced Thursday afternoon that his death was classified as a suicide and said it was awaiting the family's decision "regarding study of the brain for repetitive injury by researchers outside of the office."
Mitchell confirmed the family's intentions Thursday night.
"The family was considering this almost from the beginning, but they didn't want to make any emotional decisions," he said. "And when they came to a joint decision that absolutely this was the best thing, it was a natural occurrence for the Seau family to go forward."
The studies into chronic brain damage came amid widespread litigation against the NFL by former players over the impact of past concussions, including a suit of more than 100 ex-pros filed Thursday.
More than 1,600 former players were pursuing legal action, accusing the league of failing to do enough to protect them from subsequent brain injuries. The league denies misleading players