By Jarrett Bell
While questions linger about circumstances that led to the suicide death of former NFL star Junior Seau, the notion of requiring mandatory counseling for retired players as they transition to life after football is gaining steam.
A chorus of former and current players, including Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall and Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, have called for post-career counseling after Seau's death at 43. A memorial service for Seau is at Qualcomm Stadium today. The funeral is Saturday.
"Is this going to be a situation that allows us to talk about it?" Troy Vincent, the NFL's VP for player engagement, told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. "Unfortunately, we lost someone. To me, men are crying out for additional assistance."
Vincent, who played 15 pro seasons as a defensive back, heads the NFL department that addresses transition and other off-the-field support measures. Counseling, education and other services are available to players for five years after leaving the NFL, but Vincent, who endorses mandatory counseling, says only about 25% of current and retired players engage in league programs.
Counseling could be a valuable resource for ex-players dealing with depression that can come after leaving a high-profile athletic arena, or with other issues.
"They can make it available," newly elected Hall of Fame tackle Willie Roaf says, "but you can't make a person do something they don't want to do."
The most feasible way of ensuring counseling after players are finished playing football would likely be in tying it to the lump-sum severance pay for players (which ranges from $10,000 to $17,500 per season played for vested veterans). For that to occur, it would have to be added to the collective bargaining agreement.
"It's an idealistic goal," says Nolan Harrison, the former 10-year NFL defensive lineman who heads the NFL Players Association's retired players services division. "We'd love to see baseline testing (for concussions) for players coming into the league, and financial literacy standards, too."
Harrison pointed to the types of mandatory programs offered to military personnel returning to civilian life after leaving combat zones as a model.
"If would be beneficial," Harrison added.
Fletcher, preparing for his 15th NFL season, reiterated Thursday that he wanted to see mandatory counseling for players leaving the game.
Marshall, a seventh-year pro, wrote of his therapy last year for borderline personality disorder in a moving column for The Chicago Sun-Times, and called to erase stigmas that may discourage people -- and NFL players -- from seeking help.
Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott considers himself a living testimony to the value of counseling. Lott underwent therapy following his NFL retirement after the 1994 season.
"It's hard to prescribe it as mandatory," Lott told USA TODAY Sports. "I did it because I wanted to understand a lot of things. I'm here to say it enhanced who I am. Did it solve everything? No. But it gave me a chance to see things that I didn't think about and learn things I didn't know."