Seau’s Death May Put a Dent in NFL’s Popularity

It’s safe to say that the NFL has never been more popular than it is today. The last three Super Bowls were the most-watched TV shows in U.S. history; regular-season games accounted for 23 of the 25 most-watched telecasts last fall; and team revenues have never been higher.

Not even the concussion stories of the last several years can puncture the NFL’s Teflon image, said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports, in an interview in February 2012. Well, three months later, Pilson’s concussion contention may not be accurate, as the nation mourns the apparent suicide of popular ex-NFL star Junior Seau.

Seau, who played linebacker in the league for 20 years (an amazing stat since the average time as a player in the NFL is six years, if you believe the league, and three years if you believe the player’s union), surely suffered many damaging blows to the head. And now the media is wondering if Seau’s suicide was caused by depression related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease found in other former pros who have died.

So far, the NFL has been understandably mum on any link between Seau’s death and the concussion problem. Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement of condolence stating: “All of us are deeply saddened about Junior Seau, a great player loved by teammates who also worked hard to serve his community.”

But you can bet communications pros at the league are huddling to figure out how to best handle the onslaught of concussion stories that are sure to come. Sure enough, today another group of former players filed a lawsuit claiming the NFL did not inform them about the dangers they faced from concussions sustained in the sport. Also, USA Today reported that CTE researchers at Boston University asked the Seau family for permission to study Seau’s brain.

Seau was not only a beloved player for his on-the-field exploits, but well-known for his community efforts as well. If that examination takes place and the the findings are positive for CTE, the public’s reaction could put at least a dent in the NFL’s Teflon image.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01