UPDATE May 4 at 9 a.m.: The family of late former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau will be donating his brain to science to help determine whether repeated trauma suffered by football players leads to depression, it was reported Friday.
Chargers chaplain Shawn Mitchell told U-T San Diego that the family came to its decision on Thursday.
ORIGINAL POST May 3: Thursday the Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that Junior Seau’s death was a suicide.
The 43-year-old former NFL player died Wednesday inside his Oceanside home from a gunshot wound to the chest, which the Medical Examiner determined to be self-inflicted.
Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Nelson conducted the forensic autopsy, according to a news release from the county. The autopsy included a full inspection of Seau’s body and organs—and a host of laboratory studies, including a toxicology report and a microscopic examination of organs and tissues. The results of those tests will be part of the final autopsy report.
Researchers outside of the medical examiner's office may study Seau's brain for repetitive injury if his family consents, according to the news release. The family's decision is not known at this time.
After the death certificate is completed, Seau’s body will be released to the mortuary his family selects.
More details about this case will be released in the final investigative report, which may take up to 90 days to complete.
Seau played with the Chargers for 13 years before finishing his career with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. Seau is the Bolts all-time leader in tackles with 1,288. He also had 47 career sacks and 15 career interceptions for San Diego. In November 2011, he was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame.
News of Seau’s suicide reflects back to Oct. 18, 2010 when he drove his 2005 Cadillac Escalade SUV off a cliff in Carlsbad following his arrest for felony spousal assault with injury.
Police told 10News that his then-25-year-old live-in girlfriend, Mary Nolan, was the victim in the incident. Police said Nolan claimed Seau assaulted her during an argument, according to an Oct. 18, 2010 10News report. Nolan told police Seau grabbed her and shoved her into a wall, leaving behind a small bruise on her right arm, according to a separate 10News report.
About five hours after he was released from custody, Seau drove his SUV off the cliff.
“Carlsbad police estimated Seau was going about 60 mph once he went airborne. The Escalade sailed through the air, landing 100 feet down on the beach,” 10News reported.
Carlsbad police told 10News the road was dry at the time of the incident and that Seau told the first arriving officers that he had gotten sleepy while driving.
“Police said there was no evidence that he was intoxicated at the time and apparently was not in a suicidal state of mind,” the 10News report stated.
Seau's personal assistant told 10News the former Chargers star did not try to commit suicide.
The San Diego County District Attorney's Office did not file criminal charges in the case.
Seau's death comes at a time of increased scrutiny of the effects of repeated head blows in football, and the potential for these injuries to contribute to depression and long-term health problems in players.
Seau’s suicide marks the third by an NFL player since February 2011. Last year, retired Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson committed suicide and left a note asking that his brain be studied. Less than a month ago, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling shot himself to death at age 62.
The Seau family's pastor, Shawn Mitchell, a former chaplain for the Chargers, told Reuters News that Seau likely suffered concussions during his football career.
"He would go in head-first," Mitchell told Reuters.
Over 1,500 former football players have sued the NFL over head injuries. On Thursday, 100 other retired players filed a lawsuit against the league on the same grounds in federal court in Atlanta, according to Reuters.
“The league disputes the claims in the suits, which accuse it of concealing links between football and brain injuries,” Reuters reported.
Ray Ellis, 53, a former player with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, told Reuters he believed Seau's death would contribute to a sense of urgency regarding players and brain injuries.
"There needs to be research done," he said.