Seau death: Latest in string of similar deaths of ex-NFL players?

Junior Seau takes part in an event July 24, 2009, in Malibu, Calif.

Junior Seau, one of the NFL's best and fiercest players for nearly two decades, had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide last May, the National Institutes of Health revealed on Jan. 10, 2013. Results of an NIH study of Seau's brain revealed abnormalities consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The NIH, based in Bethesda, Md., conducted a study of three unidentified brains, one of which was Seau's. It said the findings on Seau were similar to autopsies of people "with exposure to repetitive head injuries."

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(CBS News) There's shock and grief among National Football League players and fans over the apparent suicide of former San Diego Chargers star Junior Seau.

His body was found Wednesday in his Oceanside, Calif. home.

The future Hall of Famer died with no explanation.

In his 20 year NFL career, Seau made more than 1,800 tackles, becoming one of the most feared linebackers in the game.

With news of his death, family and friends gathered in shock at his home north of San Diego, where his mother's grief overflowed.

"I pray to God, please, take me. Take me. Leave my son," Luisa Seau sobbed. "But it's too late. It's too late."

Seau was found with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

"This case, at this point, is being investigated as a suicide," Oceanside Police Chief Frank McCoy told reporters.

There was no suicide note, but Seau's ex-wife says he texted simply, "I love you" to her and their three children on Tuesday.

His death comes after the suicide last year of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson. He shot himself in the chest so his brain would be preserved for science.

In a suicide note, Duerson asked that it be studied by researchers investigating brain damage in NFL players.

Last month, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling committed suicide. He was suffering dementia, at 62.

More than 1,500 former players are now suing the league, claiming that, for years, it ignored evidence that repeated blows to the head trigger chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which has been linked dementia and depression.

At this point, there's been no direct link established between the chronic brain injuries and Seau's death.

Former tackle Kyle Turley, who knew Seau, speculates that he may have paid a price for being a football great. "He played hard, tough, and," Turley says, "there is no doubt that the toll his brain took at the position he played, it will most undoubtedly show that this is a factor."

In San Diego, where Seau played with the Chargers for 13 seasons, he's also remembered for his philanthropy. "He couldn't do enough off the field for ... the youth, and anybody he could help, he helped," recalls Charges owner Dean Spanos.

But on the field, Seau was known for his speed and power. And for pumping his fist in triumph.

  • John Blackstone
    John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.