The Pro Football Hall of Fame quietly made up an unnecessary new rule a few years ago involving its annual induction ceremony and is now using that dumb “policy” to prevent the family of the late Junior Seau from speaking on his behalf.
Perhaps the Hall’s aim is to appear heartless and small, to mire itself ever deeper in a public relations embarrassment and to have its Aug.8 induction ceremony overwhelmed by this controversy. If so, keep doing what you’re doing, fellas.
Or, the football shrine in Canton, Ohio, could simply cut its losses, do the right thing and make an exception to its policy for an exceptional player and an exceptional circumstance.
Seau was an extraordinary linebacker, an all-time great, but his significance in NFL history was only magnified by his suicide at age 43 in 2012. Then, in effect, he became the face of concussions, of brain damage, of the sport’s lasting, brutal physical toll — the issue that caused the league to agree to pay more than $675 million in damages to former players to settle a class-action lawsuit.
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Seau’s family opted out of the group settlement and is separately suing the NFL for wrongful death, claiming that Seau’s suicide was partly attributable to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative neurological disease detected in the brains of dozens of deceased NFL players and blamed on repeated head trauma.
I’m sure the Hall of Fame and especially the NFL feared that Seau’s grown daughter, Sydney, if allowed to speak on her Dad’s behalf as she had hoped, might have made her remarks sound like the opening argument in the family’s lawsuit, excoriating the league for years of turning a blind eye to the unhealthy effects of physical trauma.
She says otherwise.
“I just want to give the speech he would have given,” she told ESPN.com. “It wasn’t going to be about this mess. My speech was solely about him.”
That isn’t the point, though.
A family representative should be permitted to speak at a posthumous induction and be heard live, not just in an edited tribute video. The live remarks should be beholden to a clock like anybody else’s but should be unfiltered, from the heart. If Sydney Seau chose to make it all about gratitude and fond memories, fine. But if she chose to make some of it about “this mess” and give voice to the family’s grief or anger or dismay or frustration — she should have that right, too.
(The family indicated through their lawyer Monday they did not intend to disrupt the ceremony.)
You can’t always whitewash or sanitize real life.
You shouldn’t always want to.
Some might say a Hall of Fame induction “isn’t the time” for anything controversial.
Maybe it’s the perfect time.
Maybe the NFL and its beleaguered image would benefit from transparency and open dialogue and the kind of honesty that would be embodied by the daughter of a Hall of Famer wondering aloud why her father left the world at 43.
The Hall adopted its current policy in 2010 because it found family members speaking for deceased inductees were too often “redundant” in simply reiterating what had been heard in the introductory tribute video.
So what! Living players can get a little repetitive, too. (Maybe some of that is the lasting fog from too many seasons of brain-rattling collisions …)
Seau’s story is too important to be condensed into a sanitized video about glory days and Pro Bowls.
It wouldn’t hurt for a loved one to share some of the pain of the darker truth, as Seau’s former wife Gina did with 60 Minutes when she said Junior “would come home from games, go straight to his room, lower the blackout blinds and just say, ‘Quiet. My head is burning.’”
Maybe the NFL and football fans need to hear that, too, not just the cheering.
Miami had a small piece of the Seau story, of course. He was a Dolphin from 2003 to 2005, right after his last of 11 Pro Bowl seasons in San Diego. That was a time when he probably should have retired — for his health more than for declining skills — but didn’t know it. (You wonder, looking back, how much the late-career pounding he took here weighed in the CTE gradually overtaking his brain.)
The Pro Football Hall of Fame has a little more than a week to do the right thing, waive its pointless policy and allow Junior Seau’s daughter to speak.
Either way, by her words or her silence, chances are it will be what we remember most about that night in Canton.