Last week, the NFL community added to the string of professional football player suicides with the tragic death of Junior Seau. It is with much sadness that we grieve the loss of a football great, a philanthropist and a role model for all. Two weeks before, former NFL star safety Ray Easterling also committed suicide after a battle with depression that appears to have been related to the multiple concussions he received during his career. Six months ago, I lost the greatest player in my life, my 18 year-old brother Jake. I am a survivor of suicide, or perhaps I should say I am trying to survive.
My brother played football, basketball and baseball in our small hometown in Maine. He lived for sports and his passion for the game was undeniable. He was the sweetest and most caring individual I have ever met. He was a fixer and always wanted to help people, on and off the field. He loved his family and his friends dearly. He was my best friend.
During his career as a varsity high school athlete, my brother received several severe concussions, and these concussions changed him. After these devastating injuries, my brother’s mood, temperament and attitude on life changed forever. He stopped caring about school and began experiencing increasingly impulsive behavior. He was easily agitated and showed sudden and frequent outbursts of rage. He complained of severe headaches and often found himself in a cloud, unable to focus. These changes were very noticeable, and from the beginning I attributed them to his multiple concussions.
The changes I saw in my brother were terrifying. I often expressed concern about Jake’s behavior to my parents and friends. They chalked it up to him just “being an 18 year old boy.” My brother refused treatment and I worried about him every day. Unfortunately, my fear was lived out. In a way, I think I always knew this would happen, although he promised me it never would. My brother and I periodically spoke of suicide, because several years ago his friend and teammate took his own life after also experiencing several concussions. My brother never forgave his friend for the pain that he brought to everyone with his passing. Jake promised me that he would not want to hurt his friends and family the way he had been hurt.
From the very first moment of this living nightmare, I knew I needed to do something. While some people may argue that it’s time to hang up the cleats and put away the football helmet for good, the 100 million Americans that watched the Patriots take on the Giants in this year’s Super Bowl would surely disagree. Football is deeply entrenched in American culture. Parents teach their children to play, and in the process impart valuable life skills such as hard work, determination, leadership and teamwork. Volunteer coaches devote countless hours of their time to building up peewee teams and providing kids with an important outlet. This is where we need to start: with our youth. We must protect them from the epidemic of concussions and suicide.
My brother knew that his concussions had a profound effect on him, both physically and mentally. The same was true for Junior Seau and NFL player Dave Duerson, as both players took end-of-life measures, gunshots to the chest, that ensured that their brains would remain intact for researchers to examine the effects of multiple concussions on brain tissue.
I recently established “The Jake Lord Play It Safe Foundation” to raise funds in my brother’s name and for all the athletes who have been damaged by sports-related concussions. The foundation is raising funds to develop concussion awareness programs and to purchase better sports equipment, including highly engineered football helmets, for high schools. Junior Seau’s death reinforces the importance and urgency of trying to reduce the effect of concussions on athletes’ lives, so families like mine will not be left with a hole in our heart and the unanswerable question of “why?”
Jenna Lord is a former resident of Jay, Maine. If you are interested in learning more or providing support to help us further this work, please contact email@example.com.