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Ex-NFL player Junior Seau's family sues league over suicide

The family of Junior Seau, the San Diego Chargers all-pro linebacker who committed suicide in May, sued the National Football League, claiming his death resulted from repeated head injuries he suffered on the field.

Seau experienced innumerable blows to the head during his career and wasn't given critical information by the league necessary for his safety, the family said in a complaint filed Wednesday in state court in San Diego.

"We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior," Seau's family said Wednesday in a statement. "But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations."

More than 3,000 former players have sued the NFL seeking damages for head injuries. The complaints, which are consolidated in federal court in Philadelphia, accuse the league of negligence and failing to inform players of the link between repeated traumatic head impacts and long-term brain injuries.

Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection who played the last of his 20 NFL seasons in 2009, was 43 when he shot himself in the chest at his home in Oceanside. The National Institutes of Health said Jan. 10 that brain-tissue samples showed Seau had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive brain disease diagnosed after death.

Player suicides

Seau's suicide followed that of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson, an 11-year veteran who shot himself in February 2011 at age 50; and Ray Easterling, an eight-year player with the Atlanta Falcons who killed himself two weeks before Seau at age 62. An autopsy on Duerson found similar traumatic brain injury.

Attorneys for the league will review the complaint "and respond to the claims appropriately through the court," Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the NFL, said in an email.

A so-called master complaint filed in Philadelphia in June claims the NFL knew as early as the 1970s about the increased risk of repetitive head injuries. The league allegedly took no substantial steps to address the issue until 1994, when it created a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee, and later sought to suppress medical literature showing a link between head injuries and post-career brain damage, according to the master complaint.

Seau's family sent his brain tissue to researchers in July 2012, two months after he shot himself. Results of the study on Seau's brain showed the disease as well as evidence of scarring consistent with a small, old traumatic brain injury, the NIH said in its statement this month. In the analysis, a team of neuropathologists each examined tissue samples from three different unidentified brains.

People who died with the disease have been described as having displayed personality changes, depression, increased irritability and trouble with attention, researchers said. CTE, which causes abnormal small tangles of a protein in the brain, was first described in studies of boxers who developed dementia and symptoms resembling Parkinson's disease.

Seau's behavior became erratic during the mid-1990s, according to the complaint filed by Seau's four children and his ex-wife Gina. He developed severe insomnia that plagued him until his death. He also became forgetful and unable to concentrate and focus, according to the complaint. Seau, who spent most of his career with the San Diego Chargers, eventually became self-destructive and violent, and would sink into long periods of depression, according to the complaint.

'Irrational' father

"His children had to adapt to a new version of their father," the family said in the complaint. "When he was lost in periods of depression he became irrational and unreachable. They would look into his eyes and not recognize the person with whom they were now dealing."

Seau, taken fifth overall by the San Diego Chargers in the 1990 NFL draft, was chosen as the league's defensive player of the year in 1992 and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's All-Decade Team for the 1990s. He played three seasons with the Miami Dolphins after leaving the Chargers in 2002 and spent his last four years in the NFL with the New England Patriots before retiring after the 2009 season.

The case is Seau v. National Football League, Superior Court of California, County of San Diego. The consolidated Philadelphia case is In re National Football Players' Concussion Injury Litigation, 12-md-02323, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).

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