When my older brother Pat was in his final days, he had two priorities. The first was to spend as much time as possible with friends and family, allowing us the chance to share memories and say goodbye, a privilege not everyone has with loved ones. The second was to make sure his sons, Soren and Stellan (then ages 5 and 2) were taken care of.
And so he worked with his employer, Nestle Waters, to set up a trust fund to ensure that the boys could attend college.
But Nestle didn’t stop there. Not only did the company raise a significant amount of money for the trust, they also attended his services in droves, provided cases of water for everyone, and picked up the tab for a reception held to celebrate Pat’s life.
They didn’t just do the right thing; they went above and beyond. And to a grieving family, that act of kindness meant the world.
But unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen this way.
Last week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that no one would be allowed to speak during the induction of Junior Seau, who died in 2012 as a result of self-inflicted gun wounds. Rather than allowing his family to represent him, the Hall will feature a video celebrating his career.
Why, you might ask? Well, league officials are citing a policy banning induction speeches on behalf of deceased players (which, by the way, I find to be slightly suspicious). But it’s quite difficult to ignore the fact that Seau’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL after doctors concluded he had been suffering from a severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And in fact, many experts believe he deliberately shot himself in the chest so that he could preserve his brain for postmortem research.
As one article noted, “Junior Seau quite literally gave his life to football. His family knows it. The league knows it. Every football fan in America knows it.”
And yet, instead of giving his family a chance to honor him, the NFL seemingly wants to sweep the issue under the rug and move on.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of all is that the highlight reel could very well include “the kind of bone-crushing, pulverizing headfirst tackles” that not only made Seau a Hall of Fame linebacker, but also led to the traumatic brain injury that ended his life, as one writer deftly pointed out. “The Hall better be careful: The highlight reel might make the Seaus’ case for them.”
It’s an excellent point. But putting aside the matter of the wrongful death suit, the Hall of Fame had an opportunity to do the right thing; to treat one of their own with class and dignity after he passed away, and they failed miserably.
And quite frankly, by keeping Seau’s family in the shadows — during the induction event he worked his whole career to achieve — the league is inadvertently shining a light on the public image nightmare it’s working so hard to conceal. Personally, I hope the league’s reprehensible actions help generate meaningful dialogue about the dangers of concussions.
Now that would be a way to truly honor Seau.