Suicide Among NFL Players Is Six Times The National Average

I saw Junior Seau at his namesake restaurant a few years ago. He seemed more than kind and appeared not to treat regular ol’ people like peons, as you sometimes see with celebrities. In fact, he seemed like such a cool guy that I remember thinking he’d probably laugh at the jokes I wrote about him having a high-top fade well into the 2000s. Well, either he’d laugh or kick my ass.

Like everyone else I was shocked when I heard Seau died of an apparent suicide. I immediately thought of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson, who committed suicide in the same exact manner–a gunshot wound to the chest (apparently to preserve his brain so it could be researched for football related degenerative disease).

After a bit of reading on NFL players and suicide I found that, according to GamesOver.org, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to serving and meeting the transitional needs of players when they leave the game,” 65 percent of NFL players retire with permanent injuries. In addition, the suicide rate among former NFL players is six times the national average, possibly due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease inflicting people who have suffered multiple concussions. From the New York Times: 

To this point, the roughly 20 N.F.L. veterans found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy — several of whom committed suicide — died unaware of the disease clawing at their brains, how the protein deposits and damaged neurons contributed to their condition…Players who began their careers knowing the likely costs to their knees and shoulders are only now learning about the cognitive risks, too. After years of denying or discrediting evidence of football’s impact on the brain — from C.T.E. in deceased players to an increasing number of retirees found to have dementia or other memory-related disease — the N.F.L. has spent the last year addressing the issue, mostly through changes in concussion management and playing rules.

Football’s a brutal sport, even more so after retirement.

UPDATE, 5/27/12: There’s a fairly comprehensive update of CTE among NFL players in the Cleveland Plain Dealer

UPDATE, 6/7/12: Former NFL players allege league hid brain injury links in lawsuit.

UPDATE, 7/30/12: Tennessee Titans wide receiver O.J. Murdock, 26, has committed suicide. 

UPDATE, 1/10/13: The National Institute of Health examined Seau’s brain and found he has CTE

Dewan Gibson: The Imperfect Blog

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17 Responses to “Suicide Among NFL Players Is Six Times The National Average”

  1. Melissa Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Sad:(

  2. Will Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Its very common with ex players ( see Dave Duerson). I immediately thought it wad GTE related

  3. Dewan Gibson Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    Yep, really sad. Within a couple hours the crazies will be out condemning him to hell, though the Bible doesn’t say that. @Will both Seau and Duerson shot themselves in the chest, Duerson did so to save his brain for CTE research.

  4. Susan Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    I heard about this on the news earlier. Very sad

  5. JeremyR Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Is that 6 times the national average, or 6x the national average for men that age?

    I’m leery of claims without actual statistics, because they can be misleading – men kill themselves 4 times as much as women do.

  6. Dewan Gibson Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Jeremy,

    I’m looking for clarification, as to if it’s six times the overall rate, or for men that age. I assume it’s for men, since the league is all men. I’ve contacted Gamesover.org (former Green Bay Packer Ken Ruettgers organization) for clarification. Nonetheless, whether you compare it to men, or the national rate, I believe we’ll find it’s significantly higher. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is also discussing CTE tonight on CNN.

  7. Jack Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    6 times .01% ? Yes thats all it is. .06% of football players commit suicide. Honestly im glad. It’s a case of a selfish individual who was extremely weak. You had 3 kids who no longer have a father because you were a selfish weak individual who couldn’t handle stress and headaches. .06% is nothing to even catch the attention of a tabloid if you belong to a non celebrity profession, but it’s the popular thing to rip football these days. How about we start to condemn the cowards who think that there is any rational thought to killing them selves. Non rational, unintelligent, low IQ individuals kill themselves. We are better off as a society without them. Survival of the fittest. Too bad they weren’t good enough to survive.

  8. Sally D Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    I wouldn’t be so harsh Jack. SUicide is often caused by mental illness. It’s a pain you won’t personally understand but show some empathy.

  9. Jack Says:
    May 2nd, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    I go off of statistics and rational thought. You have kids then you have a job to do, no matter how horrible things are. You’re duty in life is to be there. If you personally choose to take away that from your children than you are a horrible person who I have no use for. We are becoming a soft society that is more concerned with assigning blame to everything but the person. It seems that it’s always a sickness, or bullying, or depression. Take what ever the buzz word is. Why can’t we just accept that people are flawed and some are too weak to be of any worth. Stop over thinking everything.

  10. Danny Says:
    May 3rd, 2012 at 5:35 am

    Amazing how people can make statistical claims without any actual statistical evidence. Such irresponsible reporting.

  11. Dewan Gibson Says:
    May 3rd, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Danny, your statistical evidence is the number of NFL players that have committed suicide in recent years, or have long term brain injuries. Here’s another case, just from a few weeks ago: http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/Ray-Easterling-death-ruled-suicide-Atlanta-Falcons-041912

    BTW I’m not a reporter. As stated in this blog’s description: “The Imperfect Blog is an ‘Occasionally Hilarious, Always Interesting’ collection of short stories, humorous posts and cultural critiques. It is written and maintained by Dewan Gibson, humorist and author of The Imperfect Enjoyment.”

    I’m simply presenting information that I found interesting. The reader can draw her own conclusions.

    Thanks for reading.

  12. Thomps Says:
    May 5th, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Rational thought,

    Strengthen the economy by decreasing competition
    Reduce the amount of pollution
    Reduced risks associated with over population
    Eliminate potential risks imposed by yourself onto others
    And many more, come on be rational when writing rational

  13. EB Says:
    May 5th, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Jack,
    You claim to go off of rational thought, but it seems you only go by judgmental thoughts. Whenever someone is judging someone else, without a doubt you can find ignorance lying close underneath. You obviously do not understand suicide and Major Depression. It is not about weakness or character flaws, but mental illness. It is nice and easy for those of us currently not suffering from chronic hopelessness, possibly due to structural damage to the brain, to pass judgment on someone with different circumstances. Nice and easy, but also ignorant and immature. Plenty of individuals with very high IQ’s have committed suicide. IQ is not correlated with mental illness. You can have an IQ of 180 and still be depressed and kill yourself. Yes, suicide is irrational, but that is because emotions are ruling the person and not their cognitive side, and it sometimes can’t be helped on their own because their brain is malfunctioning. I like how the “rational” person is telling everyone to stop overthinking everything. I think that is because “overthinking” this would conflict with your judgmental statements. It’s amazing how you have the market cornered on “truth” and are able to so thoroughly judge a person.

  14. Neuroscientist Says:
    November 5th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    As someone who has personally been conducting research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, I am absolutely stunned at people like Jack’s response. This is equivalent to getting angry at the “dumb” individuals who can’t even remember their families names when they have alzheimer’s. How dare them! CTE is a condition that develops neurofibrillary tangles, beta amyloid in some cases, cavum septum pellucidum in some cases, and a variety of other physical problems. This affects the limbic system as well as the outer cortical layers. In other words, their emotion center is completely screwed up. No, you can’t just “decide” to get better. This is completely biological and isn’t just something that football players need to “get over.” It’s dementia for goodness sakes. The fact that they donated their brains to research and purposely shot themselves in the chest instead of the head provides more evidence that they were absolutely miserable before they died and wanted to stop others from experiencing the same thing. Not only was it NOT selfish, they purposely contributed to saving other’s lives and emotional wellbeing. Jack, I’m sorry for whatever the popular boys did to you back in high school, but as a used-to-be nerd, I would suggest getting over petty high school jealousy and get a real job. I did. Because if you really did have a great job and family like you claim to know so much about, and weren’t jealous of people making a ton of money and being famous, I guarantee you wouldn’t be wasting time randomly bad-mouthing football players on the computer who unfortunately lost their lives. These people’s brains are literally deteriorating causing mental disturbances. They can’t simply “get over it” just like you can’t simply “get over” your obvious erectile dysfunction. Yes, I went there.

  15. EC Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Neuroscientist- I <3 you

  16. CS Says:
    December 17th, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Yeah, I’d love to see the data behind 6x the national average. I just have a hard time believing such…you can’t just pinpoint a certain time frame and say you’re using that, doesn’t work that way…Duerson played how long ago? Everyone that’s stepped foot on the field between then and the time he committed suicide has to be counted. There aren’t many players at all that have committed the act. You also have to take into account how difficult it is for NFL players to move on after football. It was WELL documented that Seau had an extremely tough time leaving the game, he came back time and time ago and people understood when he wasn’t playing he was flat out miserable with his life. He immersed himself in the game so much that he didn’t have an identity outside of the locker room and field. Many professions that have high stress levels have much higher suicide rates (dentists? doctors?) so how is it adjusted based on that? Not your fault, as you’re just stating what you read and you don’t say it as absolute fact…but I just can’t imagine that’s a realistic number. You also have to adjust based on males (who have a MUCH higher suicide rate than females, and considering the NFL is an all male sport it stands to reason they’d be that much higher as well). I would think all things considered and adjusted for, if you index apples to apples, NFL players would be on par if not under the national average.

  17. Joel Says:
    September 29th, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    For those interested in current, credible information on the incidence of suicide in the NFL in relation to the general population, please see the following:
    http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/48/2/162.short

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