Thursday, May 3, 2012

And now, Junior Seau

Junior Seau was a star linebacker in the National Football League, and he died on Wednesday of a gunshot wound. Police are investigating the death as a suspected suicide.

Should this turn out to be a suicide, it would be yet another case of a former football player dying by his own hand; there have been several deaths of professional football and hockey players by their own hands in the past two years. Ray Easterling, Dave Duerson, Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard... In case after case, depression and/or dementia has been cited, and fingers are pointing to the after-effects of concussions. With players larger and stronger than ever before, the potential for serious harm grows - and people continue to say, "This is how the game is meant to be played."

What level of risk is acceptable in sport, from the perspective of Jewish law? Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked this question regarding professional athletics, and he wrote (Igrot Moshe Choshen Mishpat 1:104) that one may engage in sport for his livelihood even with a low level of risk, even a risk of danger to "one in thousands", but he did not elaborate further.

I grew up following the NFL and NHL and enjoying both immensely - as I write this, I'm listening to the start of the 3rd overtime in the Rangers-Capitals playoff game - but one wonders whether professional-level football or hockey have reached a stage at which Rav Moshe would have prohibited participation.


  1. In the hockey cases, I don't see the connection between violence of the sport and suicide. Rick Rypien had depression while still a teenager (in high school), the police claimed that Wade Belak's death was accidental, and Derek Boogaard died from a drug/alcohol overdoes.

    They don't have an NFL team in Toronto so I never followed it...

  2. comparison to general population statistics? health proffesionals statistics?
    Joel Rich

  3. I'd also like to ask Joel Rich's questions. Given the prevalence of depression among the general population, I'd want to know if there is really anything statistically unusual about this. Sadly, suicide is one of the most common causes of death in young men in the UK. I've never heard of concussions causing depression either.

  4. Russell-
    Wade Belak - The articles I've read say suicide. Wikipedia does mention your idea of accident as the family's version, but acknowledges his history of depression and notes that police investigated it as a suicide.
    Boogaard's was an overdose of painkillers. Again, investigators treated it as suicide, family said accident.
    Accidental overdose of painkillers - call it what you like, but someone was trying to quash serious pain.

    Joel, Daniel-
    You can look at any number of articles, but a good introductory one is here. No time right now for anything more thorough, sorry.

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  6. Sports should be done, not watched

  7. Shalom RosenfeldMay 3, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    Even if one individual is allowed to take on an activity with x% risk, perhaps we as a society should (must?) try to reduce those numbers.

  8. Shalom RosenfeldMay 3, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    Another concern: how fully can/does the participant understand the risk?

    The Talmudic examples involve climbing heights -- very clear what the risk is! Here I suspect the helmet causes a false sense of security ...

  9. Adam-
    I think watching and doing fulfill separate needs in a person.

    Public health in halachah is quite complicated; it's very hard to tease out imperatives from the material we have.

  10. Boogaard got drunk and was popping pills his brother gave him. This is what people do when they go out partying. He ODed. Fortunately you don't know about that :)

    I think a much more interesting and statistically significant angle would be why 8 players from the 1994 Superbowl winning Chargers have already passed on...

  11. Russell-
    Take a look at this article on his painkiller addition. This wasn't simply a party.

  12. Sports have one negative aspect. They can be part of the reason America and Europe are not prepared for the threat of Islam. This is because sports is how people gain the mentality of playing by the rules and having to cooperate for common goals. This leaves the Western world at a loss to understand people that have no common goals with the West (except to destroy it) and have not trouble breaking the rules when it is to their advantage. People in the west simply have no idea how deadly serious Muslims are. some people have to experience a few attacks to even have the slightest notion of what Muslims mean by "Death to America." It is not a rhetorical device.