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Chargers Great Junior Seau Dead From Apparent Suicide

May 2, 2012 1:24 p.m.

Oceanside Police confirmed that Chargers great Junior Seau was found dead at his Oceanside home of an apparent gunshot wound.
GUESTS:
Erik Anderson, KPBS business reporter
Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton, afternoon sports talk show host, XX-1090
Jay Paris, North County Times, Sports Reporter

Related Story: Chargers Great Junior Seau Dead From Apparent Suicide

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Various local media sources are reporting that Chargers great, Junior Seau, is dead. We have breaking news today. UT San Diego, 10 news, the North County Times, and other outlets are reporting that Chargers great, has committed suicide at his Oceanside home. This has not yet been confirmed by Oceanside police or the coroner. Reports say he died from a self-inflicted Gunn shot wound to the chest. Joining me is Mark Sauer. Mark, tell us a little bit about what you know about Junior Seau, and what he means to the San Diego community.

SAUER: Well, it's such a sad day here. He was the face of Chargers football for so many years here in San Diego. And it goes back before that when he was a school boy in Oceanside, he was a tremendous star. He lettered in football and basketball and track and field am he was recognized as the most valuable player when he was in high school, named by Parade to be high school all-American team. Spent three years at the university of Southern California and then joined the Chargers. He was named to the probowl nine times, an outstanding linebacker, and he was on the league's list of all pro start enforce ten years. He was a remarkable football player, and it's a great Ross to this community.

CAVANAUGH: We have a number of people assembled to speak about Junior Seau, one is actually on the scene in mission valley in front of Junior Seau's restaurant in mission valley mall. And our reporter, Erik Anderson is is there. Hello.

ANDERSON: Hi, Maureen, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: Fine. What is the situation there? What are you seeing?

ANDERSON: Well, Seau's did not open for business, as you might expect it to be on a typical afternoon. The doors are closed. It doesn't appear to be anybody inside at this time, and there's no indication as to whether or not the facility is going to open for business. Occasionally, people are walking by here, some trying to get in, a couple of news cruisers standing around as well, waiting to see what happens. I did speak to a gentleman a few minutes ago who had some contact with Junior Seau in the past on some real estate ventures. And he says that it's really a shock to him. He even called Junior a person with a larger than life personality who just kind of reached out well beyond himself and captured people's imaginations, and he says his passing will be a shock to the community want

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Eric. Let me go to Lee hacksaw Hamilton, the afternoon talk show host at XX sports 10.90. And Lee, we've talked on this show a number of times on happier occasions. I wonder if I start out by asking you, do you have any independent confirmation about what is going on in front of Junior's Oceanside home?

HAMILTON: Well, are the only thing we can report is what's being reported by people there that are on the scene. Is this just shocking, I walked in the door at 10:00 AM just as the story was breaking, and of course I was a longtime voice of the Chargers when they went to the super bowl, and Junior Seau was the cornerstone of the franchise. The grief is unbelievable there. People are driving up and dropping off floral bouquets near the driveway near his Oceanside strand home. His mother and father have just arrived within the last half-hour. His mother coming out of the house collapsed into the arms of Junior's father. His sister has arrived. His oldest son has arrived, escorted into the house with a police escort. The reports are that there was gunshots right before 10:00 AM, and that a housekeeper at the other end of the house heard the noise, came in, and the housekeeper is evidently the one that discovered the body. This was a report that Seau text messaged through of his children to say he loved them last night. There had not been any indication that he was having any "personal problems" in public. We knew of the incident two falls ago where his SUV went off a cliff, and there were strange statements at that point in time as to what caused that. Was alcohol involved, was it a suicide attempt? The only bottom line statements we eventually wound up with were that he fell asleep at the wheel at 7:30 PM in the evening, which many of under the circumstances found strange but never pursued it beyond there. He had a brilliant career. And when his career was over with the Patriots, here came back home. And I found it very odd, he almost became a recluse. He was never accessible, he was not a public figure. And some pro-football player, once they walk away, they walk away. But we just got a sense of unrest that -- I just he did not know what he wanted to do. I probably talked to him maybe late last fall, and I'd always thought maybe he should go back, finish his degree, and get into coaching because I thought he could really add a lot, whether it's as a high school program or the collegiate football program, but he never did that. He was involved in his foundation, he had really become an ultra-private person, which kind of really stunned me through the course of this whole process.

CAVANAUGH: Lee, I want to tell everyone who's listening what it is that we are talking about. Just to recap, the local news sources are reporting that there is a death at the home of Junior Seau, they're reporting that Junior Seau was found dead. There are reports that Seau committed suicide as you've been hearing from Lee hacksaw Hamilton. The police are now probably getting a timeline, including text messages that Seau reportedly sent to his children last night. He was 43 years old. He leaves behind three kids and an ex-wife, and we have not had any of this confirmed by an authoritative source. So far, police have not come out and stated the fact that Junior Seau is dead. We want to just advise everyone of that. We are awaiting a news conference by the Oceanside police. We don't know when that is going to happen as these events usually take a long time to unfold. I'm wondering if we have Jay Paris on the line from the North County Times.

PARIS: Yes, you do want

CAVANAUGH: Let me get your reaction to this really disturbing and shocking news for San Diego.

PARIS: Well, it's really the saddest day in San Diego sports history. And Junior was such much more than a football player. And that iconic No. 55, it was the passing and the enthusiasm, and the love of the game that just oozed from every inch of that strong, Samoan body. And so many people connected with him. And let's remember, the Chargers weren't very good for most of his career. Yes, they intent to the super bowl toward the end of it, but he was the face of the franchise. And he was among the few reasons to go watch the Chargers back in the day. And our newspaper, the North County Times got an unanimous call this morning, it's probably been about two hours since Junior shot himself. And like the new organization does, we call the police to get a confirmation. You get a lot of crazy calls sometimes in the newsroom. And the Oceanside police's reaction told us all we needed to know. There'll be a statement later regarding this because something was obviously up. When you play with that much emotion, and Junior was an emotional guy, sometimes those guys are on Roller coasters. And I feel bad too. Saw him just recently he had his annual foundation dinner and golf tournament up in la costa, and raised millions of dollars for at-risk kid, served thousands of families at his restaurant Thanksgiving, free Turkey dinner. This man's reach went well beyond the chalk lines. A sad day in history San Diego, and a sad day in San Diego history over all.

CAVANAUGH: I'm thinking about what Lee was telling us, Junior Seau is a legend in San Diego.

PARIS: Right.

CAVANAUGH: Yet what we have heard in recent years has been very little, or these strange events, a domestic violence call, a strange car crash. Was there any talk about what was going on with Junior Seau?

PARIS: Maybe a little chatter. Junior -- there was always that drumbeat going off in his head, and he often followed that one, and it wasn't conventional sometimes. And I think this'll probably come out later after the shock wears off, but you got to realize too maybe the brain trauma he suffered, and maybe the dementia was setting in. Maybe he was having emotional problems that were brought on by 15 years of playing in the NFL untilful run out and slam your head into your garage door once. Do that a couple hundred times in the game for 15 years, what does that have effect on the brain? Maybe there were some psychological issues there. But I'd rather focus on the good, and the good man that he was, and did he have limits? Absolutely. Was he flawless? Absolutely not. But here's a man who gave all he wanted on the field, and I just keep thinking back to all those kids he helped in college. And helped make society better.

CAVANAUGH: Let me go to Mark Sauer.

SAUER: Jay, you make an interesting point there. Unless there's a specific note, and we we and we don't not that, we don't have an official note from the police or the medical examiner's office. But suicides are generally not reported other than as stories about trends and research into suicides themselves, unless it's a very public figure as in this case. And that's because of the speculation. You brought up the possibility of head trauma. That's very interesting. Of in the national hockey league recently, there have been a number of cases of notorious fighters and brawlers in their careers who had head injuries, died prematurely, and there's a number of studies being done on the trauma to the brain. The same is true in the NFL, and the sports have downplayed that over the years. But that could well be the case here. It's very dangerous to speculate as we move into this, but you talk quite a bit about his -- the personal good he had done. And how actively he was involved in the community through his foundation, as well as the Samoan day events, and the clothing line. And the restaurant was popular in years past, and working with a lot of the staff there and scene there in mission valley, and a very familiar figure there. And he had been married and had been divorced since 2002. He has three children. He 4 briefly a show on television. It only had ten episodes, and Lee and you were talking about how distant he'd been recently and how this bubbling personality had not been in evidence in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Let me open up the phones if I may. The outpouring of emotion is no surprise, a tweet from the San Diego Chargers. And Lee Hamilton, I want to go become to you. The outpouring of emotion in San Diego over this, Seau was a star here. Tell us a little bit about that.

HAMILTON: Well, he was a great player, and started not only as an on the other hand pirate, but then at USC, then he fell to them to the draft, and he was the first of the corner stone as they tried to rebuild a franchise that had really gone downhill. He was vibrant, aggressive, to a degree a football intellectual. He was all team all the time. He was just a special player. And as the general manager who got him when he fell to him in the draft began the building process, they added unique and different players from a lot of organizations. But in all honesty, the team that went to the super bowl really had only one original Charger as a key component, and that was Seau. The star wide receiver had come

Miami, they did draft a young running back, the cornerstones of their defense were free agents that had been picked up, Ruben Davis and Sean Lee, then the same thing with virtually all the offensive lineman. But Seau was really the beacon, if you will, of the team. When you mentioned charge super bowl, everybody remembers Junior Seau and his signature quarterback sack lightning bolt. He threw his arm in the air. The other thing I wanted to mention, and jay will probably remember this, that was a starstruck franchise. That was a 1-time thing when the Chargers got to the super bowl, Maureen. Eight players, eight players of that Chargers super bowl team that played in January, 1995 are dead. All of them under the age of 45. Wide variety of things, heart attacks, substance abuse, auto accidents, terrible plane crash, player struck by lightning while hiking in New Mexico: It is the strangest thing to go back and evaluate the fact that eight of the top 43 players on that team have already passed away all under the age of 45. It's just absolutely stunning. But historically, I've been here 25 years, probably as close to a native as you can find in the media. This is probably the saddest day involving a San Diego sports figure that I can ever, ever remember.

CAVANAUGH: And just before jay comments on that, I want to tell everyone, we are watching the breaking news coverage from channel 10 while we're doing this broadcast. And we're seeing a white van, a varsad, ominous looking white van.

SAUER: Sure is.

CAVANAUGH: Drive up to the Oceanside home of Junior Seau, looking as if it's getting ready to receive something.

HAMILTON: Well, three medical examiners have also arrived at the scene within the last 15 minutes. And jay raises an interesting question that will probably be answered somewhere down the road. Was he suffering from CTE, some deterioration of the brain because of all the violent hits in football? The NFL has had a significant issue with player suicides that have become public in the last calendar year, one of the most FAMOUS is Chicago bears safety Dave Nurrison, who was actively involved in the union and the fight for better benefits for retired players, he committed suicide just last year. And I think jay is correct. We have to investigate and link whether CTE, which is brain deterioration because of multiple concussion, whether this might have been the trigger point for depression or something very sad like this.

SAUER: Lee, I want to jump in here, to recap, we are talking about this breaking story, apparent report that Chargers great, Junior Seau has committed suicide in his home in Oceanside, waiting on confirmation from Oceanside police and the San Diego medical examiner. The Chargers have issued a statement. I'll read it. "Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now. We ask everyone to stop what they're doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family."

CAVANAUGH: Let me just say too, we've received word that AP is reporting that police have confirmed to the associated press that Junior Seau is dead. He was -- and I don't know if they're confirming suicide, but they're certainly confirming that he is no longer with us. Jay, everybody has been talking to you, and I haven't allowed you a chance to say anything lately so please respond to the things that have been said.

PARIS: Well, I just think that when you put it in proper perspective, that so many great athletes come to San Diego with a reputation already. Or so many great athletes leave San Diego and get that representation elsewhere. Junior was one of ours. He went to Oceanside high. Football might have been his third best sport, the funny thing about it. So people connected with him. That's a large Samoan community in North County am for him to go up the road just to USC, that connection was still there. And when he was selected him fifth overall in 1991, the hometown hero was staying home. And that is so rare in sports today. And while he did finish his career elsewhere; the bulk of his career was here in San Diego. And there's so few athletes like that. You mate so Tony Gwynn. But he didn't go to high school here. Maybe bill Walton, but injuries wracked his playing time in the flip clippers. There are very few at that level, especially this lived in Oceanside, that grew up here, and I think that's one reason he was so popular, and it's another reason why his loss is going to be felt dramatically throughout the county today.

CAVANAUGH: I want to remind everyone, that if you would like to talk about this tragic news today, that Junior Seau is dead, you can give us a call with your responses. We were watching the coverage from a local TV station, and we were watching a reporter basically fighting back tears.

SAUER: Absolutely. And one of the reasons is because Junior wasn't just a football player as we've said. It's been 20 years now since he created the Junior Seau foundation with the mission to educate and empower young people through the support of child abuse prevention, and recreational opportunities, and anti-juvenile delinquency efforts. So he was much more than this giant presence on the field. And he certainly was that. But as we've been pointing out, he was the face of this franchise, are the face of sports in San Diego, and locally homegrown. And if these reports as we're saying do prove to be the case, and this was a suicide, it's just so difficult to know that demons were there. This could be more information come out on that, perhaps with message to family, or a note of some kind. But just very difficult to know what would cause something like this.

CAVANAUGH: I want to end this segment with a couple more tweets from the San Diego Chargers. They're asking everyone to stop what they're doing and send a moment sending prayers to Junior and his family. Chargers are also tweeting "everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now." We want to end this segment and carry on with more of Midday Edition. But we will bring you updates on the Junior Seau story as they occur during the hour, and if there is that press conference by the Oceanside police, we will bring that to you. I have been speaking with my guests, Lee hacksaw Hamilton, jay Paris, and Mark Sauer. Thank you all very much for contributing to this segment.

HAMILTON: Thank you Maureen.

SAUER: You bet.

PARIS: Thank you.