Late NFL star Seau's family undecided on brain research

By Corrie MacLaggan, Reuters

Posted at May 06 2012 11:08 AM | Updated as of May 06 2012 07:08 PM

Former National Football League star Junior Seau's family is revisiting its plans for research on the brain of the retired linebacker, who killed himself in his California home on Wednesday, a pastor for the family said on Saturday.

The family's pastor, Shawn Mitchell said on Friday the family had decided Seau's brain would be examined for evidence of repetitive injuries from his playing days.

"They have now stepped back from what they were thinking initially," Mitchell said on Saturday when asked about the family's plans for Seau's brain.

"Nothing is definite right now."

More than 1,500 former football players have sued the NFL over head injuries, and accused the league of concealing links between football and brain injuries. The NFL disputes those allegations, and said it has taken steps to protect players.

Asked whether the family was still planning to allow researchers to examine the brain, Mitchell said: "I don't want to give the impression they're not going to anymore."

But he added: "We thought everything was kind of nailed, and now it's in flux."

He declined to specify which issues the family was reconsidering. Asked whether the indecision hinged on which institution would receive the brain, Mitchell said: "I think everything is being revisited."

Seau, who played for 20 years in the National Football League, was found unconscious at his home by his girlfriend on Wednesday with a gunshot wound to his chest and a pistol nearby, police said.

Seau's death at age 43 comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of the effects of repeated blows to the head in football, and the potential for such injuries to contribute to depression and long-term health problems in players.

His family has said Seau suffered concussions during his career, although they were not diagnosed at the time. Brain damage caused by blunt force trauma to the head, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is commonly known as boxer's dementia.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office, which found in an autopsy on Thursday that Seau's death was a suicide, has said a study of the brain for repetitive injury would have to be conducted by outside researchers.

The Brain Injury Research Institute and Boston University were both seeking to obtain Seau's brain, Garrett Webster, an administrator for the institute, said earlier this week. A spokeswoman for the university declined earlier this week to comment. Webster could not be immediately reached on Saturday.

The Seau family is discussing the matter with people close to them, Mitchell said.

"They just want to slow down, be sure they're doing it right," he said. "With the incredible, incredible anguish and grief and pressure of this situation, they've been in a fog. Now, they're getting counsel."

The family is planning a memorial service, Mitchell said.

(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; editing by Tim Gaynor and Todd Eastham)