Professional sports athletes are often idolized for their remarkable talent. They are able to live lavishly because of the money they make, and are able to play the sport that they love. It is often forgotten that these sports athletes are everyday people as well, meaning they are also vulnerable to the same illnesses as everyone else.
Mental illnesses are included in this as well. For one reason or another, the athletes discussed in this article suffered from mental illness. Depression is one of the most prevalent - as well as one of the most debilitating - mental illnesses. Depsite the money and the fame, many sports athletes suffer from it.
A lot of the athletes below suffered from the degenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In brief, it is a brain disease that is commonly found in athletes, especially those who have concussions. Symptoms can appear a few years after the head impact occurs, and can result in changes to the individual's mood and behaviour. Depression is one of the more common changes seen in individuals with CTE.
With all that in mind, let's take a look at 15 athletes who sadly took their own life.
15 JUNIOR SEAU
Junior Seau was a linebacker in the NFL throughout the 1990s and 2000s for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, and New England Patriots. Seau was a fan favourite because of his passion for the sport in which he experienced so much success. He was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection and a 10-time All Pro.
That same popular leader for the San Diego Chargers had stunningly committed suicide on May 2 2012, just three years after retiring. Seau's girlfriend found him in his home with a gunshot wound in his chest, and a note with the lyrics to his favourite country song. Initial reports were largely inconclusive but, in 2013, Seau's family revealed doctors Seau had suffered from CTE. He was one of the seemingly endless number of football players who tragically passed away, only to later discover they had been suffering from CTE.
14 CHRIS BENOIT
This is one of the most difficult suicides to discuss because of the circumstances surrounding the incident. Chris Benoit had been a professional wrestler for WWE since 2000. He was a 12-time champion and was one of two men to win the Royal Rumble as the number one entrant.
Amidst several missed appointments and concerns raised by WWE and other wrestlers, police entered Benoit's home on June 25 2007. They discovered the bodies of Benoit as well as his wife Nancy and 7-year-old son Daniel. It was later determined that, over a three-day period, Benoit murdered his wife and son before killing himself. Benoit's wife was killed first, having been bound at the feet and wrists and asphyxiated, and his son died of asphyxiation in his bed. Benoit killed himself by using a weight lifting machine to snap his neck. Although heavily speculated, tests concluded that "roid-rage" was not involved although he did have an elevated testosterone level.
13 JOVAN BELCHER
Jovan Belcher was a linebacker who played for the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL. Against all odds, he became successful in the NFL despite not being drafted. 2011 was easily his most successful season, where he had 61 tackles and 26 assists
On the morning of December 1 2012, Belcher shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, 10 times in the bathroom of their home. He then drove to the Chiefs' practivce facility where he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in front of Chiefs' GM Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel, and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs. They each tried to talk Belcher out of killing himself, but Belcher insisted that there was no other way out and that it was "too late to turn back now." Police documents would later indicate he and Perkins argued over custody of their daughter, Zoey, finances, and partying habits.
12 ANDRE WATERS
Andre Waters was a safety/defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals in the NFL between 1984 and 1995. During his career, Waters was a very solid player who became known for taking a lot of very hard hits. He even developed quite the reputation for being one of the hardest hitting defenders in the league during his playing days.
As it would turn out, all of those hard hits may have taken a toll on Waters. He had commited suicide at his home in Florida on November 20 2006, by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Waters' brain was sent to the University of Pittsburgh, where it was revealed that he suffered significant brain damage playing football which led to Waters' depression. Moreover, Waters' brain damage was characterized as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). While Water's death was unfortunate, it eventually forced NFL to seriously look into concussions and the long-lasting health impacts the heavy hitting play can have on its' athletes.
11 WADE BELAK
Wade Belak spent over a decade in the NHL (1996-2011) and played for five different NHL teams during that span. Across his 14 seasons in the NHL, he realized his full ability as a player during his time with Toronto Maple Leafs. Belak also had a reputation as a fighter while on the ice.
On August 31 2011, Belak was found dead in a Toronto condo. It was treated as a suicide by police, but very little details have been released about the details surrounding Belak's passing. Belak's mother, Lorraine, did say that Belak struggled with depression and she believed he was seeking help for the mental illness. With that said, Belak's family believes that the death was accidental and not a suicide. Based on the lack of information shared by the family, which is perfectly understandable, fans are left guessing at what ultimately led to Belak's death.
10 KENNY MCKINLEY
Kenny McKinley was a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos in the NFL .He only played one season in the NFL, where he appeared in 5 games. McKinley's promising career was abruptly cut short when he committed suicide on September 20 2010. A friend of McKinley's had been out running errands with his child and, when they returned, she found his body in his master bedroom. He died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A later report indicated McKinley was depressed because of debt, his injury, and his post-playing career.
McKinley's sudden death stunned his teammates, fans, family and friends. In his statement to the media after the news broke, Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels said, "Kenny had a promising future on the football field, but more importantly, he was a great teammate whose smile and personality could light up the room."
9 RICKY BERRY
Ricky Berry played for the Sacramento Kings in the NBA for a single season, before he committed suicide. Berry, drafted 18th overall in the 1988 draft, had a perfectly solid rookie season having averaged 11.0 points/game.
Berry's wife, Valerie, suddenly found her husband's body on August 14 1989. He had shot himself in the head following a fight with his wife, which resulted in her spending the night prior somewhere else. A gun and a suicide note were found at the scene, but the contents of the letter were not revealed. Beyond that, what drove Berry to commit suicide remains a mystery for those who knew him. Jeff Logan, friends of Berry and his widow Valerie, told the LA Times in 1990, "I know his wife. She's a very nice lady, and if they had some marital problems or a spat, it wouldn't be anything than any other husband and wife had. From what I saw, there was nothing extreme. It was just a good, normal marriage."
8 RYAN FREEL
Ryan Freel spent nine seasons in MLB as a utility player, having spent time at every position except first base, pitcher, and catcher. Freel was an average player who tended to bounce around between teams and between Triple-A and MLB. His versatility was what kept him in the league, since his ability to play anywhere gave teams added roster flexibility.
Off the field, Freel suffered from various mental illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, among other illnesses. This was one of the factors that drove Freel to commit suicide on December 22 2012 at his Florida home, by gunshot. In the aftermath of his death, reports revealed Freel suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. He had suffered nine or ten concussions during his career according to that report.
7 DOUG AULT
Doug Ault spent a few years in MLB as a first baseman and designated hitter. He is most recognized for having hit the first home run in Toronto Blue Jays history. Beyond that, Ault never really lived up to expectations and was a below average player during his brief MLB career. His last year in MLB was in 1980, after having spent 3 years in the league.
Sadly, Ault's life never got any easier from that point on. While he did spend some time coaching in the minor leagues, that career never really took off for him. He also never experienced much success as a cars salesman. On December 22 2004, at his home in Florida, Ault committed suicide by gunshot. He was found by his second wife, Lynn. It is sad how his career as a Blue Jay started off so promising only for Ault to end his own life a few decades later.
6 DAVE DUERSON
Dave Duerson spent a decade in the NFL as a safety for the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, and Phoenix (before they were renamed to Arizona) Cardinals. By all accounts, Duerson had a very successful career in the NFL. He was selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls, won the NFL Man of the Year Award in 1987, and was a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Fast forward to February 17 2011. Dave Duerson was found dead in his Florida home by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest. Neurologists later discovered that Duerson suffered from CTE - yet another athlete who suffered from it. According to texts he sent to his family members, Duerson shot himself in the chest specifically so that his brain could be studied for CTE. At the time of his death, there was much debate in the NFL about the prevalence of CTE (associated with concussions) among football players. This would become particularly important since CTE was also found in the brain of Andre Waters, who we mentioned earlier.
5 RANDOLPH TURPIN
Randolph Turpin was an English boxer during the 1940s and 1950s. During his prime years, he was considered the greatest middleweight boxer. Arguably the highlight of his career occured when he defeated Sugar Ray Robinson on July 10 1951 to become the Middleweight World Champion.
His success did not last forever, as he eventually declined and was not the same boxer he once was. During the 1960s, he was forced to declare bankruptcy. Then, on May 17 1966, Turpin committed suicide by shooting himself. This came after Turpin apparently attempted to murder his four-year-old daughter, Carmen, who was taken to hospital with injuries. Although it was not necessarily known at the time, Turpin was believed to have been battling clinical depression. This may have stemmed from his sudden boxing decline and his bankruptcy, both of which caused Turpin a great deal of distress.
4 JAMES HARDY
James Hardy was a NFL receiver for parts of four seasons with the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens. Injuries proved to be ultimate downfall as he was unable to enjoy sustained success or playing time in NFL. He played arena football in 2012 and 2013, but never received any significant playing time.
In one of the more recent suicides covered on this list, Hardy was found dead on June 7 2017. Hardy's body was discovered in Maumee River near Fort Wayne, Indiana, two weeks after having been reported missing by his family. The Coroner's Office revealed that Hardy committed suicide by asphyxiation due to drowning. Hardy left behind a son, James Hardy IV, at the time of his death. It served as yet another reminder of how mental illness can affect anyone.
3 DAVE MIRRA
Dave Mirra was a competitive BMX rider, who was mostly known for competing in the X Games and rallycross racing. Arguably his greatest athletic accomplishment is having medalled at every X Games from its' inception in 1995 until 2009.
Mirra committed suicide on February 4, 2016 at his best friend's North Carolina home. Authorities were called and discovered his body inside a truck. It was ruled a suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, which shocked his family and close friends because he apparently showed no signs of depression. Mirra as well suffered from CTE, which was caused by the concussions he received during his career and being hit by a car when he was 19. Mirra became the first action sports star to be diagnosed with CTE.
2 RICK RYPIEN
Rick Rypien was a center/forward for six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL. He became known as a tough player with a blend of speed and aggressive play, and was never afraid to get into a fight.
Rypien signed a contract with the Winnipeg Jets during the 2011 offseason, but he sadly never got to play for the team. That offseason, Rypien was one of three NHL players (Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak were the others) who died that offseason. Rypien was found dead on August 15, 2011 at his home in Albeta. Rypien, who had long been clinically depressed, killed himself. It was such a tragic end for a player who was so heavily supported by the Canucks organization, his teammates and friends.
1 TERRY LONG
Terry Long was an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL for eight years (1984 - 1991). In 1991, Long attempted suicide by consuming rat poison after he was suspended by the NFL. After surviving this attempt and serving his suspension, he rejoined the Steelers in what would be his last year with the league.
On June 7, 2005, Long was found unresponsive in his Pittsburgh home and died several hours later in the hospital. In September 2005, the coroner initially ruled the cause of death as meningitis but the death certificate was revised October 19 to state suicide as the cause of death. According to the coroner's report, Long drank antifreeze to commit suicide. This was apparently discovered when laboratory tests discovered Long's body contained ingredients found in antifreeze.