When the Lights Don’t Glow the Same Way That They Used To

Anybody who has a modicum of sports awareness probably heard about the tragic death of Junior Seau a few weeks ago:

I first wanted to say R.I.P. to his memory. He was a great athlete and played with a passion, work ethic, and selflessness that is hard to find in the modern sports world. Many people saw his death as untimely and obviously sad. However, I find it unfortunate that medical and sports experts attribute his death to the whole concussion debate. Granted, that debate and study of concussions is quite valid, but I feel that the majority of people are missing the forest for the trees.

This is an opinion of mine and I know this will be up for debate, but I feel like Seau’s suicide and the suicides of various other professional athletes does stem from depression, but I don’t believe that the depression stems from concussions. Rather, I feel that the depression comes from a professional athletes sudden estrangement from a world they’ve lived in their whole lives.

What many do not realize about professional athletics is that it is truly a lifestyle. Consider the life of a professional athlete. Most of them started participating in their respective sport at a very young age, usually age 7. From there, they developed a routine-work out, school, practice, eat, homework, repeat. This process would continue through college and into the pros, where school would be replaced with team meetings and media events. For one, when someone has cultivated a routine for 30+ years of their life, upon retirement, when their whole lifestyle changes, it presents a surreal moment where they have no idea what to do next. What keeps people living on a day to day basis is having a purpose. For athletes, from a young age, they made getting into the professional leagues as their purpose. Upon getting to that stage, their purpose was to accumulate stats and hopefully win a championship. Where the average business professional can continue to do what they love and strive until their death, professional athletes have to stop playing eventually and at a relatively young age. As a result, upon retirement, their purpose is suddenly taken away from them.

Then you have to think of the lifestyle. Often as early as high school, athletes are faced with sudden fame not only in their school, but also in their city and state. That fame increases when they reach college, albeit on a national level at that point. Then, when they become professionals, that fame is ratcheted up to an international level most times. With the fame comes adoration, exemption to normal social rules, etc. However, that fame comes with a catch-it only exists as long as the athlete is playing. When athletes retire, unless they take an analyst or coaching job, they go from being the focus of everyone’s attention to becoming virtually irrelevant. That’s always a hard adjustment for anyone, especially when going from widespread fame to relative obscurity. Think about how sad people get when they lose a friend or don’t get a lot of mentions on Twitter and Facebook. They feel dejected. Now imagine that drop at a higher and more epic scale.

This combination of lack of purpose and downgrading of lifestyle is depressing for any athlete at any level. Because of the high stakes of professional athletics, the depression felt is more profound. So in reality, I think there should be studies done on how professional athletes transition to a more “normal” life. Hopefully, Seau’s death sparks the discussion.

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