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Spirituality, Death, Suicide and the National Football League

Former Bears All-Pro starting Safety Dave Duerson

Dave Duerson was a four-year starter at Notre Dame, graduated on time with a degree in economics, won the NFL Man of the Year award in 1987, earned a seat on the Notre Dame Board of Trustees in 2001, worked with the NFL Players Association, and was a All-Pro Safety for the Chicago Bears helping his team to their victory in Super Bowl XX.

On Thursday February 17th, 2011, Mr. Duerson  texted family members to be sure, after death, that his brain was harvested and analyzed for the kind of degenerative brain condition that has been found to be increasingly common in some former football players, then he shot himself in the chest and died.

The amount of hits a player takes to the head and spine has been a long-standing issue with the National Football league who only recently has been seen as taking any serious measures to correct the situation. Of course, this trickles down into the behavior of all of the “lower” leagues all the way down to Pop Warner.

We are ourselves tackled at this moment by many troubling issues in regards to this story.

  • How to deal with the death of a man who had such a contribution to society.
  • How do we now look at the sport? Should we be worried for our children looking to play this sport in any theater?
  • Does this change our opinions about contact sports in general?
  • How does one go from such a contributor to committing suicide at the young age of 50?
  • What can we do to change all of this?

We will sorely miss Mr. Duerson’s contribution to society. I believe at this time it is proper to remember him, not for this singular act, but for the man that he was.

It was 1986, the strike season in the NFL. I was in High School at the time and the original or “real” Chicago Bears were practicing everyday in the back forty of our school. Every day we saw them coming in and practicing and leaving at the end of the day. We went out and saw them at any chance we had. Occasionally,  you got to shake hands or even speak to one of them. I remember doing just that with Mr. Duerson. He was a kind and personable man. He was also a very focused individual…focused on his job, and he did it very well indeed. We now have to focus on all of the positive aspects that he has brought to us in this world and all of the lessons he is about to teach everyone. We have to remember Dave for all the lives he is about to save. I say thank you Mr. Duerson. We love you. We always have.

We have to be concerned with any contact sport for the safety of the players. This safety concern is up to each league to address in real terms. They must take a players safety right now or in the future as paramount over wining the game or selling tickets. The movie “Any Given Sunday” comes to mind. It is a true story that happens in every contact sport on a daily basis. If the leagues will not take action…then we will take action on them. For our children, these men are hero’s and we need to protect them.

I do not believe it should change our perception of contact sports in general. The competing spirit is part of our nature. It pushes all of us to new heights if performed and controlled  in an honest, and true manner. It teaches teamwork and friendship. It reinforces how important the individual is in relation to the whole (team).

Mr. Duerson took a beating in his professional career. Hit after hit takes its toll on the best or toughest player out there. The uncared for or unrealized damage it was causing is only now evident by the terrible actions that were taken by him. Obviously, he wanted to make a sweeping statement to the world and he succeeded. I only wish he did not choose to make it in this fashion.

What can we do to change all of this?

We need to stand up and speak out to all sports as parents and people in general for better and constant safety measures for these players of all levels when they are currently playing and well after they retire. There should be regular assessments done over each players lifetime to assess any potential issue. We need to give these leagues no choice but to listen.

We are confronted with death on a daily basis, suicide or otherwise…how we deal with this going back into our practical lives is the key. We must ask the hard questions to ourselves. Are we going to make the emotions of the death or suicide event our primary feeling we take into our every day? Or are we going to learn from their lives and take all that was positive from their lives into ours? And most importantly, how can we learn from, not their mistakes, but their strengths.

I remember Dave Duerson’s life from the football field. I remember his tenacity, his skill, his focus, his intelligence. Off the football field I remember him as being a kind and intelligent man. It sounds simple…but I think many people can learn a great deal from those few things.


—— Erik Sudberg



About thetumultuoustimes

I am just a citizen of the world expressing opinions about a world that is in dire need of change.


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