Superstar linebacker Junior Seau’s suicide has been tied to a brain disease he likely developed due to repetitive blows to the head sustained during his football career. Following the revelation, coaches and athletes at the prep level are likely to rethink the way their sports are taught and played.
A study of Seau’s brain revealed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, and that its symptoms of depression and dementia probably led to him taking his own life. The findings shed new light on sports-related head injuries and how they might be avoided in the future.
Scott Dickson, a high school football coach for 15 years in Ohio, said that the Seau finding is likely to have a direct impact on the way football is taught and played at the youth and prep levels.
“It is going to be very different,” Dickson said. “We’re talking about a sport where one of the goals is to tackle your opponent to the ground against his will. There was a time when you were taught to lead with your facemask—that you should ‘See what you’re hitting.’ But now, I think you’ll see a shift to more tackling with the shoulders, wrapping up, which is actually a more fundamentally sound technique.”
In addition to a change in the way tackling is taught, Dickson suggests that rule changes may be in order at the prep level.
“You’ve seen it in the NFL,” Dickson said. “There have been changes to the rules there that make it illegal to hit a player in the head. You’re going to see more of that, and it will start when the athletes are younger. If we can teach these kids how to play the game when they’re young, that will carry over to when they advance to college or the pros. That is how we’re going to see the changes that the NFL wants to see, by changing the way we build football players, beginning at the youth and prep levels.”
SI.com spoke with Seau’s widow Gina, who said that she was happy that her two sons do not play football. Her oldest son has stopped playing football in favor of lacrosse.
"Lacrosse is really his sport and what he is passionate about," she told SI. “Watching what his dad went through, he says, `Why would I risk lacrosse for football?' "
When asked how she felt about her 12-year-old not being interested in playing football, she told the site, "That's fine with me."