NAPLES — Shocked and saddened like the rest of the sports world by the death of his former teammate Junior Seau, Naples native Fred McCrary hopes something good can come from the tragedy.
A veteran of 11 NFL seasons, McCrary played with Seau for four seasons with the San Diego Chargers. McCrary, who said Seau was a mentor early in his career, has no doubt that the six-time All-Pro linebacker’s mind was damaged from 19 seasons of head-on collisions when he apparently committed suicide Wednesday.
“To me, what Seau did was selfish,” McCrary said Wednesday afternoon before a Naples High football practice as he prepared to speak to his alma mater. “But in the same way it was unselfish because, wait until they study his brain. Wait and see how messed up it will be.”
McCrary was in his third season in the NFL when he joined the Chargers in 1999. Right away he began learning from Seau and the linebacker’s legendary work ethic and intensity. McCrary credits Seau for molding him into a hard-nosed player who survived 11 pro seasons.
As a fullback, McCrary played one of the most high-impact positions on the field. The 39-year-old knows firsthand what the violence of the NFL can do to players long after their careers end. The effect of brain injuries is worse in retired players, McCrary said, because there was little known about head injuries in his and Seau’s playing days.
The 1991 Naples graduate can understand Seau being troubled, and the Chargers’ future Hall of Famer isn’t the first to take his own life.
Last year former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest — the same as Seau — so his brain would be preserved for scientific study. Researchers later found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused by multiple head injuries that causes dementia.
“The mood swings, the depression, I can relate to all that stuff,” McCrary said. “Your memory leaves a little bit. Think about it — you’re running into a wall for 20 years. … Now I’m glad they’re making it more aware of what’s really happening.”
Seau’s personal life came to light in October 2010 when he drove his vehicle off a 100-foot seaside cliff in California just hours after being arrested on a domestic abuse charge. There was speculation at the time that the crash was a suicide attempt, but Seau told authorities he fell asleep while driving.
“To me he was crying out before when he ran off that cliff,” McCrary said. “They talk about it was an accident. No, he was crying out then. We just weren’t hearing him.”
McCrary is in his hometown this weekend for his annual charity golf and poker tournament to raise money for his 44 Ways Foundation. While the loss of Seau, who McCrary kept in contact with, has dampened his spirits, he is excited about this weekend’s events.
Several former NFL players will be at the events. Former Indianapolis Colts tight end Marcus Pollard, former Miami Dolphins receiver Nat Moore, former Dolphins defensive back Terrell Buckley highlight the list. Former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who is now coaches Marco Island Academy’s new football team, also will be there, along with past New York Jets safety Victor Green.
McCrary is donating most of the money raised to help restore the community pool in River Park, the low-income community where he grew up. Last year the charity events raised $3,500, but McCrary hopes to at least double that this year.
The golf and poker tournaments are open to the public. The Texas Hold ‘Em event starts at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Immokalee Seminole Casino, and some of the money goes toward prizes for the players. The golf tournament includes one round at Hammock Bay and a skins game at the Rookery at Marco and a final round Sunday at the Rookery.
To register for either event or for more information, visit the website for McCrary’s 44 Ways Foundation at 44ways.org.