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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Criticizing Seau says more about us than it does about him

Criticizing Seau says more about us than it does about him

UNION-TRIBUNE

August 20, 2006

Junior Seau signs with the New England Patriots four days after announcing his retirement from professional football and suddenly he's dishonest, disrespectful and disloyal?

Seau chooses to chase his dream of winning a championship instead of stepping back to pursue a real job, as he calls it, and suddenly he's a duplicitous ogre who pulled a fast one on his former team?

What next? Is the Kroll report going to identify him as the mastermind behind San Diego's pension deficit?

People, take a deep breath, because the negative reaction to Seau's abrupt about-face is as ridiculous as the notion that he duped the Chargers – or anyone else – when he spoke so passionately at his retirement ceremony Monday at Chargers Park.

At the time, he genuinely seemed to believe his 16-year career was over. Most training camps were already three weeks old, so he had little reason to believe a team would call on a 37-year-old linebacker who missed 17 games the previous two seasons because of injuries.

Seau was hopeful the phone would ring, admitting to reporters that he would listen if contacted. But he wasn't optimistic.

The next day, the phone rang. The Patriots told him they needed him to plug the middle of their porous run defense. He looked at their recent track record – three Super Bowl wins in the past five seasons – studied their talented roster, then signed a one-year deal after several days of negotiations.

Soon after, the flame-throwing began. How could he? How dare he? People who praised his sendoff on Monday questioned his character on Friday, saying he had embarrassed the Chargers after receiving a sendoff that included cheerleaders, balloons, printed T-shirts and catered food.

“We are not the least bit embarrassed,” A.J. Smith, the team's general manager, said yesterday. “I don't know where that thinking would even come from. We were approached by Junior's people in June. They told us he was contemplating retirement and asked if we would be willing to work with them. We said we would, and once we got a second confirmation we put together something that would be first-class and would honor one of the greatest players to ever suit up for the San Diego Chargers. That's what we did.

“If Junior wants to continue playing and come out of retirement and chase the championship, we wish him the best. It's his life. We're happy with whatever he chooses to do.”

So why isn't everyone else? If Seau was guilty of anything, it was poor judgment. In a perfect world, he would've waited until he was certain football was out of his system before giving a farewell address.

Criticizing Seau for chasing his dream says more about us than it does him. We continue to try to make athletes fit within our parameters of what's right and wrong. Where we gained this authority remains unknown, but a lot of us apparently have it, based on the negative voicemails and e-mails I've received.

Who is Seau hurting by coming back? Does his return make his 13 seasons in San Diego less memorable? Does it make his work in the community less honorable, particularly the $1.5 million his foundation has allocated to local youth in the last three years alone?

If Seau isn't prepared to let go of the rope, he shouldn't. Michael Jordan, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roger Clemens, Magic Johnson and Muhammad Ali are among the legendary athletes who returned after calling it quits, and it didn't tarnish their legacy. The Rolling Stones have announced more farewell tours than they have band members, yet they continue to sell out in this country.

If you feel duped or cheated by his return, you should look in the mirror, because that's where the problem begins.

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