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Does Junior Seau's Death Point To A 'Chargers Curse'?

Linebacker Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers during Super Bowl XXIX against the San Francisco 49ers; Jan. 29, 1995.
Rick Stewart
Getty Images
Linebacker Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers during Super Bowl XXIX against the San Francisco 49ers; Jan. 29, 1995.

The death of former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, at age 43 in an apparent suicide, has shocked the sports world.

It's also spawned talk of a team "curse" on the Chargers' Class of 1994 — the only San Diego team to ever make the Super Bowl. Since San Diego lost the NFL title to San Francisco, eight of the '94 Chargers have died — all of them younger than 45.

Here's a breakdown from The Associated Press:

— Junior Seau (linebacker), 43, on Wednesday, from what police called an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

— Lew Bush (linebacker), 42, December 2011, apparent heart attack.

— Shawn Lee (defensive tackle), 44, February 2011, heart attack.

— Chris Mims (defensive end), 38, October 2008, enlarged heart.

— Curtis Whitley (center), 39, May 2008, drug overdose.

— Doug Miller (linebacker), 28, July 1998, lightning strike.

— Rodney Culver (running back), 26, May 1996, in ValuJet crash, with his wife, Karen.

— David Griggs (linebacker), 28, July 1995, automobile accident.

What are the odds of that?

Wei Zhu, deputy chair of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics at Stony Brook University, along with two of her colleagues, professors Song Wu and Jie Yang, took the time to quantify what it means for NPR:

If you assume a team size of 53 and compare the deaths of these players to a randomly selected group of 53 U.S. men, the odds of eight dying before age 45 is about 1 in 500.

But there are a few qualifiers: Defensive players, especially linemen, tend to be heavy, and overweight men are about twice as likely to die by age 50, Zhu says. Defensive players Bush, Lee and Mims all died of heart-related problems. Auto deaths (Griggs) aren't all that unusual and the drug overdose (Whitley) could be attributed to a "celebrity lifestyle," she says.

That still leaves the deaths by lightning and plane crash, two events that are "very rare, indeed," Zhu says.

Russell Lenth, a professor of statistics at University of Iowa, tries to put it in perspective:

"If you had made a list ahead of time and said these eight individuals will die in these ways, you'd have to say it's pretty unlikely," Lenth acknowledges.

"But it's important to remember that rare things happen every day, it's just a question of whether we notice or not."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.

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