Many believe Seau, like several others before him, suffered from a type of post-career depression where they could not overcome life outside of the game.
Former Giant great Tiki Barber, who chose to shorten his own football career, was a guest on CNN's Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien this morning to discuss the challenges NFL players face after leaving the game....
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: The Death of NFL legend Junior Seau is raising new questions about long-term brain injury in the sport. The 43-year-old was found dead with a gunshot wound to the chest yesterday. Investigators believe it was suicide. Seau's ex-wife told a local paper that he had texted her and each of their children separate messages of "I love you." When Seau's mother spoke, she was at a loss to explain just why her son would take his own life.
O’BRIEN: The former Giants superstar Tiki Barber is with us this morning. Nice to have you.
TIKI BARBER, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
O’BRIEN: Are you shocked by this?
BARBER: You're shocked because of the sudden nature of the death but you're not shocked that you see these things happen. There's a lot of factors that contribute to depression. One is stress, money stress, family stress. And we're still trying to understand this chronic traumatic injury that Dr. Sanjay Gupta has done a great job of exploring but problem is you don't know if you have that. You can't determine that unless you have passed away and do a biopsy of your brain. You're surprised but you're not surprised because there are so many factors that lead toward athletes falling into deep, deep depressions and not having a way to get out of it.
O’BRIEN: Let's talk about some of those factors. As you point out they are family issues as well. When you left the game, were you wildly depressed?
BARBER: No, I wasn't. I was propped up. I went and worked right away over at NBC doing sports and news, and things felt fine. Three years later I’m going through a divorce, I’m no longer working at NBC, I’m sitting on my couch really trying to figure out what my life is going to be, and I started to feel like I was depressed. Very fortunately I had great friends who lifted me up and got me back into the workforce and doing things and finding meaning for myself. But a lot of guys don't have that.
And the other factors that I talked about are widely documented. So 78 percent of former football players after three or four years are broke, filing for bankruptcy. They go through divorces. They don't have a steady job. They are so far behind that professional learning curve because their peers came out of college and walked up the corporate ladder. They played sports. And once they're done, they're not celebrities anymore. The relevancy period falls away.
MARC LAMONT HILL, COLUMBIA PROFESSOR: Does the league have a mechanism for providing mental health service during your career or after your career?
BARBER: They do but think about this. That is an indication that you're weak, right? And we saw this with Ricky Williams. Remember when Ricky Williams went through his deep depression with social anxiety disorder, no one wanted to hear that. No one wanted to hear I’m having mental problems. Get back up and go out there. Be tough.
O’BRIEN: Your agents are, like, hello, this is not a way to move you into some great and leverage your brand.
BARBER: There is a thing that we are emotionally strong powerful beings when in fact we are just human beings. We have the same problems emotionally and physically, personally that everyone else in the world does. They get masked because we perform on a stage and do it well. Behind the scenes you go home and lay down at bed in night is when those problems surface. And if no one is there to catch them, bad things happen.
ABBY HUNTSMAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Does there needs to be a change in the actual game?
O’BRIEN: You're talking about the traumatic injuries.
HUNTSMAN: Athletes suffer from concussions every year. In hockey league they have made changes over the years.
BARBER: You are starting to see Roger Goodell really come down hard. The reason these four saints players got suspensions, all of these penalties are because safety is becoming the number one issue. It will be Roger Goodell's selling point for his legacy as he goes on. They are taking steps to cure the violent impact on athletes.
However, this is deeper than just violence, the damage that's caused by that violence. These are emotional issues like I said before that are masked. The percentages of people in this country who have depression are high. I'm not talking about depression like I feel sad today but a clinical depression that's masked because you're an athlete and you have to have that bravado, otherwise you're not successful.
HUNTSMAN: Did you have a lot of concussions?
BARBER: I had two or three in my playing career. You really don't know. The science isn't exact. Some people may have a greater resistance to concussion effects than others. But there's a worry that falls into your head as a former athlete and one that played a violent sport. Will I go crazy in ten years?
O’BRIEN: You know a lot about CTE more than most people?
BARBER: I spoke down when they had congressional hearings a couple years ago and one of the things I wanted to talk about was effect that we as professional athletes have on kids, because everything that we do trickles down to the colleges and high schools. If we get a concussion and get nailed and you can see it on television when someone has it on a concussion. We get up and go back on the field. A kid does that same thing.
BARBER: Kids are more susceptible to these things. Next aren't as strong. They can't handle the reverberation which causes your brain to hit the skull. Kids feel they have to be tough because favorite athlete was tough. But the long-term effect can be dangerous and we need to talk about it. These types of stories, as tragic as they are, are learning examples for everyone in the sport professionally and lower because you have to pay attention to these. You have to show your sensitive side at times and not be afraid to say that you have a problem emotionally or physically.
O’BRIEN: We're completely out of time. I have to ask you this quick question. We talked earlier with Jamal Anderson about this lawsuit that 114 people have signed onto this lawsuit. Is that something you would do?
BARBER: I don't know if I would. There are reasons NFL players are doing that. For a long time the NFL ignored the fact that concussions were part of the game and were a result of the game. And guys are hurting and they need a way to get their word out there and obviously take care of themselves.
O’BRIEN: Tiki Barber, always nice to have you.
BARBER: Thank you. Good to see you guys.
Transcript courtesy CNN