Seau, Suicide & Our Circle of Friends

Pat O’Brien, one of the co-hosts of Fox Sports Radio’s The Loose Cannons Show, asked a poignant question on the day former NFL linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide.

“Where was his inner circle?” O’Brien sighed as if he were alone, sitting on a park bench with nobody around to hear instead of the millions of people tuning in throughout the country.

O’Brien and his co-hosts talked about the warning signs, how Seau drove off a 30-foot embankment some 18-months earlier after a domestic dispute. They talked about how beloved Seau was, both on the field and off. And the more I listened the more their voices trailed off, my mind stuck on the question that didn’t seem to have an answer.

“Where was his inner circle?”

Come to think of it, where is mine? Where is yours? Who comprises the circle of trusted people that you can go to when the proverbial crap hits the fan?

In a day when there are “likes” and “fans” and “tweeps” and all sorts of ways to stay connected with other people in the social universe, I have to go back in time, when my circle consisted of friends I got to see face to face nearly every day. From the sandbox to my partying balls college daze, I can recognize now that I’ve always had some form of circle. And even though these circles have taken on different incarnations over the years, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have them.

There’s no doubting that a beloved human being like Junior Seau had his circle. And so I go back to O’Brien’s question, and the only thing that makes any sense at all is that in order for our trusted inner circles to work, we have to be the straw that stirs the drink. In other words, we have to have enough trust in the people we surround ourselves with to talk about the shitty times we may be going through, be it divorce, depression, drugs and, well, you get the point.

The Loose Cannons and other talk radio hosts mentioned that there were plenty of warning signs with Seau, that playing 20 years in the NFL had to have some kind of effect on his brain. Researchers are trying to make the correlation between head injuries and concussions to depression and other neurological disorders.

Seau killed himself on the same day the NFL levied out major suspensions for current players who participated in what’s being called Bountygate, guys who got paid to allegedly hurt other guys on the football field. In addition, more former players are coming forth with lawsuits against the NFL, alleging that the league didn’t do enough to protect its players against head injuries.

Sadly, another former player ended his own life less than two years ago by shooting himself in the chest, like Seau. Dave Duerson, a key member of the Chicago Bears Super Bowl team, had been driven mad by what some believe were his post concussion complications. He explained in his suicide note that he was donating his brain to science so that it could be studied further. And just this morning, it has been reported that Seau’s family will allow researchers to study his brain, too.

But this is about more than just football. This is about coping through tough times and finding the needed support to pull through those times. It’s about getting help and trusting the people we consider to be that close inner circle of friends.

Seau’s life ended far too soon at the age 43. And right now more than ever, the family and friends he left behind will need the support of their circles, too.

Continue reading “Seau, Suicide & Our Circle of Friends”

A Thousand Thanks & The Rumor that Saved Lives

By the time I had walked into the office on Wednesday morning, Telemundo El Paso was quickly turning into a food pantry. That’s because the station, like scores of other media, had reported on a rumor that about 50 Tarahumara Indians in the northern state of Chihuahua, Mexico had committed suicide due to their inability to feed their children.

Almost as quickly as the rumor of mass suicides by the Tarahumara spread throughout the blogosphere and other social media, the Mexican government and other aid workers familiar with their plight tried to set the record straight, denouncing that suicides had ever taken place. But that didn’t sway those people who were willing to help.

In recent days, a collaborative effort amongst media on both sides of the US-Mexican border was aimed at collecting as much food as possible for the starving indigenous population in our immediate area. In El Paso, Telemundo collected nearly a ton of food thanks to a community engulfed with the spirit of giving. There was so much food, in fact, that we enlisted the help of the West Texas Food Bank to haul the donations to the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, who would then cross the food over the border into the remote and mountainous area called the Sierra Tarahumara, where a large contingent of these indigenous people live.

Despite no evidence of mass suicides among the Tarahumara, the people are starving to death thanks to lack of much-needed rain for their crops and a bitter freeze. What the rumor accomplished was that it forced people to pay attention to the dire need of Mexico’s indigenous population and to take action at what’s considered to be their final hour.

After taking in donations for the past several days, I cannot remember the last time I said “Thank you” so many times. People are starving all over the world – 1 in 8 people go hungry in the United States – and after this week I’ll never question people’s willingness to give.

The real questions we should be asking are why should we have to wait for something so tragic and surreal, a story about mass suicides, in order to truly take action? More importantly, what role does the Mexican government take in helping this indigenous population?

On the border, we hear stories of drug smuggling and killings all the time. And thanks to the attention we’ve been paying to the Tarahumara, we’re learning that drug cartels are using the indigenous as drug runners while using their land – by force – to grow marijuana and poppies.

In El Paso, as thousands of people cross back and forth into Mexico every day, we’re accustomed to seeing “the Mexican Indians” dressed up in vibrant colors, selling gum and nuts and taking handouts as cars slowly drive by.

I first encountered the Tarahumara as a 19-year-old during a photo shoot deep within the Sierra Tarahumara. I had never seen such poverty. By contrast, looking over the border towards the United States, El Paso looked like The Emerald City, complete with a bright star shining brightly on the lush mountain in front of me. The big houses on top of the lush mountain seemed so close that I could reach out and touch them.

My salvation was that I knew I could go back to that Emerald City. The children, most of them barefoot who kicked around a soccer ball with me that afternoon 16 years ago, were stuck. Some lived in caves, others lived in plywood homes.

The thought has never left me that perhaps their curse was knowing that they’d never get to cross over, the Emerald City tantalizingly just beyond their reach.