GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - As the details of Junior Seau's suicide are sorted out, there are fears that it was in some way related to the concussions he suffered as an NFL player.
Seau is the third former pro to have died in recent months, deaths that might be linked through brain-related injuries sustained during the players' football careers.
It's those kinds of tragedies that doctors in West Michigan are trying to prevent.
West Michigan's own Ray Bentley played 10 seasons of professional football and gave as good as he got.
He said when it comes to concussions, the science is catching up to the sport.
"Probably just the tip of the iceberg as far as what they're going to discover. I mean, they're banging heads. A helmet can only do so much," said Bentley. "What they're talking about now is the cumulative effect of lesser blows and what they're adding up over time."
Doctors say linemen like Seau may suffer from that cumulative effect the most.
"Most people with these plaques in their brain are lineman that don't report a lot of concussions, so we wonder if it's sub-clinical hits," neuropsychologist Dr. Michael Lawrence told 24 Hour News 8.
Lawrence is part of a program run by Spectrum Health called Impact, which offers area high school athletes testing similar to that at the pro and collegiate levels.
The program runs processing on the student athletes prior to the season. If they later suspect a concussion, researchers bring the kids in and essentially compare them to pre-injured selves.
"If you have a concussion and aren't fully recovered, you don't have to be hit as hard to have another and the effects can be devastating," Lawrence explained.
Former Miami Dolphin and West Michigan Sports Hall of Famer Mike Kadish knows full well the devastation those hits can deliver. When he sat down with 24 Hour News 8 Sports Director Jack Doles for an interview in 2009, he already had Parkinson's Disease at a relatively young age.
"Nowadays, people are getting injured to greater degrees because they're bigger, they're stronger, they're faster," said Kadish at the time. "They're going to be paying the piper later on down the road. I didn't realize I was sick or had a problem for many years after I left football, but it's something that came about and something I've got to deal with on a daily basis."
Lawrence said there is one thing players and coaches can do to try to minimize the risk:
"The adage is, 'if in doubt, sit them out.'"
Dozens of concussion-related lawsuits have also been filed against the NFL -- Seau, however, is not known to have been a plaintiff in any litigation.
If you're interested in getting the baseline concussion testing, you can contact the Spectrum Health Sports Medicine Department at 616.267.2626.
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