The news breaking this morning about Junior Seau's death from a self inflicted gunshot to the chest sent shock waves throughout the country. It is always shocking when we learn of the untimely passing of a prolific figure. The feeling for some is second only to that of losing a family member, friend or pet.
Why do we have such strong feelings for our hand selected heroes, those we never truly knew? Sure, we get to know them from a distance through interviews on TV, radio and print. We witness their performances over several years and maybe, if we're lucky, get our opportunity for a brush with fame when we see them around town or meet them at an autograph signing. However, we never really KNOW our sports heroes but when they pass on, we feel like we've lost someone we gathered around the campfire with over the weekend to drink beers and tell lies. I don't know why we do it, but in my opinion it's ok. It doesn't matter how much we knew them personally, what matters is how much of an impact they had on our lives. For many, sports figures are as much a part of their lives as people who are actually physically part of their lives. They help transport people to another place outside the realm of their own lives. They bring joy and excitement to many. Weather it's a sports figure, musician or actor we have a one sided bond with these people and it's natural to feel something with their untimely passing. Maybe our emotions are heightened because we often view these people in an immortal light. We don't see their day to day problems and struggles. We don't hear their intimate conversations about what's not going well in their lives, and we aren't privy to their physical and mental health conditions on a daily basis. When we come to the realization that our heroes are exactly like us, mortal, the fantasy becomes too real.
Junior Seau was in the NFL for 20 years. He was a star for the majority of that time. He was a guy seen with a smile on his face and determination in his eyes, even in year 20. He was a mentor to many young players in the NFL and a I'm sure a hero to his family, friends and certainly fans.
I did not know Junior Seau. I only interviewed him a couple of times in a media scrum after games here in Seattle, but when I heard the news I felt my stomach drop. I'm not sure if it was the circumstances surrounding his death or the fact that he was Junior Seau, one of the greatest football players I have ever seen play, but I definitely felt the loss of a sports hero.