What Happened to NFL Star Junior Seau’s Brain?

Seau with Chargers team doc-David Chao
Seau with Chargers team doc-David Chao

One year ago today, Bennet Omalu, a San Diego forensic pathologist sliced into retired NFL player and likely future Pro Football Hall of Famer Junior Seau’s brain. Seau committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest May 2nd 2012.

According to ESPN reporters/brothers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, Omalu, 44, was the first researcher to identify brain damage in a former NFL player. When he published his results, in July 2005, the NFL attacked him and insisted he was wrong. His research has since been vindicated many times over, with each new discovery of the crippling neurodegenerative disease in a dead football player. Omalu arrived at Seau’s autopsy with a special “brain briefcase” he carries on such occasions. His intention was to fly Seau’s brain back to San Francisco that night and share it with a Nobel Prize-winning researcher who also coveted the valuable specimen.”

Omalu would return that night to San Francisco without Seau’s brain.

Seau’s son Tyler, then 22, insisted that Omalu not be part of the brain study. Tyler Seau had consulted David Chao, who was Junior Seau’s Charger team doctor for 13 years. Chao wanted to make sure the brain went to the league’s preferred researchers. Chao has come under scrutiny for a series of malpractice and negligence suits.

CTE brain injury

With Chao and the NFL in their ear, the Seau family decided to send Junior Seau’s brain to the NIH. Four months later, the NFL donated a record $30 million to the NIH. If you’re looking for possible reasons why the league hasn’t made a fuss about Chao’s continued employment, this is a major one: without him, the league wouldn’t have been able to keep control of its most famous CTE sufferer.

ESPN’s account also confirms reports that Junior Seau had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma.Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression, which generally appear years or many decades after the trauma.

In January 2013, the family of Seau, filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL. The suit alleges the league failed to protect Seau from the dangers of hits to the head and their long-term effects.seau family

Although Seau was never officially listed as having a concussion during his NFL career, the suit alleges, “He played through injuries and pain year after year, and suffered innumerable blows directly to his head during his, both sub-concussive and concussive. Several times he was hit in the head so hard that he sustained facial lacerations. Seau also suffered from and reported symptoms of head injuries from playing in NFL games, including dizziness during and after playing, dizziness when he turned his head, and becoming dazed after being hit during games.”

The suit said that numerous times, “He would sit on the sidelines until he regained his bearings and he would then return to the games, and that by returning to play while he was still symptomatic, he was exposing his brain to greater trauma.”