DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The sports world is mourning the death of a great football player, and by many accounts a great man. Junior Seau was only 43 years old when he died yesterday of a gunshot wound to the chest. Police in Oceanside, California, where Seau lived, and died, say they're investigating the death as a suicide.
Junior Seau played in the NFL for 20 years - 13 of them for the San Diego Chargers. He established himself as one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history. Joining me now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
Tom, good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: You know, before I ask you about yesterday's tragedy, for people who don't follow the NFL that closely, tell us a little bit about Junior Seau.
GOLDMAN: A gifted football player at USC in college and then in the NFL, where he played in 12 Pro Bowls. That's the NFL's all-star game. And named to the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team.
You know, in football it's hard sometimes to get a feel for a player's personality under the cover of the helmet and pads. That was hardly the case with Junior Seau. He'd follow a crunching hit with explosions of joy, with fist pumps and leg kicks that earned him the nickname Tasmanian Devil. And a lot of NFL fans, of course, remember that radiant smile of his.
An interesting background. He lived for several years as a young boy in American Samoa. His family, when they moved to San Diego, was poor and he had to sleep at times on a mattress in his garage - one of the reasons he dedicated himself to his very successful charity foundation and dedicated it to kids.
You know, David, so many people talked about him yesterday as always happy and positive. A neighbor recalled seeing him just a couple of days ago on his balcony, smiling, strumming his ukulele. And judging by the intense grief and shock displayed by so many who were close to him, especially his family members, it just seems this came out of nowhere.
GREENE: There's so many questions about his death right now. But if it was suicide, is there any indication yet of why?
GOLDMAN: According to police, there was no note. The San Diego Union Tribune newspaper quotes Seau's ex-wife as saying that Seau texted her and their three children I love you the day before he died.
You know, a suicide like this - again, assuming that's the cause of death here - is such a dark place and hard to get inside if there weren't clues. And with Seau there just didn't seem to be. Although a couple of years ago you probably remember an incident in which the car he was driving went off a cliff in Southern California. He said he fell asleep. It happened hours after Seau had been arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.
GREENE: I'm sure they'll be looking at that incident as well. You know, Tom, we live in this time when the NFL is growing more and more concerned about head injuries. And some have been tied to depression, also suicide. What's being said about all that at this point?
GOLDMAN: You know, a fair amount. And obviously it's conjecture at this point without knowing if Seau suffered depression, silently perhaps, or if his brain were diseased by the countless head knocks he had take in 30-some-odd years of playing highly competitive football.
But you know, these days that kind of link, though, is impossible to ignore. And you also can't ignore that just last month former player Ray Easterling shot himself to death. He was one of more than 1,000 NFL retirees who have sued the NFL over the head injury issue.
And last year, of course, former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson killed himself. Shot himself in the chest, like Seau, so his brain could be studied. And that study revealed he had brain disease linked to repeated head trauma.
GREENE: Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
GREENE: That's NPR's Tom Goldman speaking to us about the death yesterday of one of the NFL's great linebackers, Junior Seau. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.