The death of Junior Seau, 43, brings back memories.
In 2005 I interviewed the NFL linebacker - but not about football. Instead, I talked to him about laser hair removal for a newsweek.com story called "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow."
At the time, the macho guy was a cheery one-time pitchman for an Ideal Image laser-hair-removal facility in Florida. He was chatty and funny, telling me that he got tired of shaving his legs to prevent athletic tape from pulling on his hairs. So he chose to get it lasered off. Any pain? (Some people say it feels like a rubber band snapping against the skin.) No big deal, he told me.
Any minor discomfort was "not even close" to what he felt on the gridiron. "It started out as a joke in the locker room," he said. But then other guys wanted to do it, too. "It shouldn't be looked at as a feminine thing to do," he said. "Hopefully we put out an awareness to men that it's OK to get the hair off."
The football star's suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest also makes me think about past stories on concussions. Each year more than 1.5 million people in the United States suffer a blow to the head with loss of consciousness. The blows they experience can cause headaches, confusion, and trouble with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.
Did Junior Seau mean to follow in the footsteps of former Bears safety Dave Duerson, who last year shot himself in the chest to preserve his brain for future study? Or those of former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who on April 19 died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound?
After all, one study found that 61 percent of retired professional football players had had at least one concussion and that 24 percent had had three or more. Repetitive brain injuries put people at risk for permanent neurological problems. On Thursday the Los Angeles Times reported that Junior Seau's family members have decided to allow researchers to study his brain "to help other individuals down the road."
Finally, the football player's death made me think about past stories on suicide. Each year nearly a million people worldwide kill themselves. In "Daring to Die," my piece on the topic for Scientific American Mind, doctors said intentionally ending your own life requires the will to carry out your plans, which include being able to tolerate pain and to act impulsively. When people get more and more experience with discomfort, whether it's from abuse by others or at their own hands, they gradually improve their ability to tolerate it - and get used to the idea of harming themselves.
The death of Junior Seau makes me sad, especially for his three kids.
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