Junior Seau. Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images.
By Ann Rubin
St. Louis (KSDK) - Several studies are already looking at links between head injuries and depression in retired NFL athletes. Now, new research at Washington University in St. Louis will attempt to study the impact of concussions over time.
Experts want to be clear, the transition to life after football is already complicated for athletes.
But they want to know how much of it might actually be in their heads.
Junior Seau was a friend, his contemporary in the league, so when former Ram, Aeneas Williams heard about his apparent suicide, he was stunned.
"It's really hitting me heavy and as the day goes on it's hitting me more," said Williams.
And this isn't the first friend he's lost. Two of his former teammates, committed suicide, Andre Waters in 2006, and Dave Duerson in 2011.
And then just a few weeks ago, Ray Easterling, a player suing the NFL over its handling of concussions, also took his own life.
"I do know this, the transition has been difficult for a number of people so it could be trauma to the brain or it could be other additional factors, life issues," said Williams.
But is it the trauma of life after football that's the problem, or the head trauma left over from the game itself?
Doctors at Washington University are searching for answers as part of a new study at their Sports Concussion Clinic.
"Certainly that's something we're all very concerned about it. Especially those of us that deal with head injuries on a regular basis, of their being a link later on from repetitive concussions, leading to possible higher risk of depression," said Dr. Mark Halstead.
Previous studies have shown a higher rate of depression in retired NFL athletes. The Wash U doctors will now look at younger ones. They'll follow them for ten or fifteen years, to see how head injuries affect them over time.
"The concern is, is it concussions? Is is all the blows they get to their heads cumulative over their lifetime? How many is too many? We just don't know the answers to those questions yet," said Dr. Halstead.
The study is just getting underway and will focus on about 1,000 student athletes ages 10 to 18.