Friday, April 15, 2011

RIP Dave Duerson, November 28, 1960 – February 17, 2011

Sad to learn of Notre Dame classmate Dave Duerson's recent untimely death at age 50. I remember getting to know Dave in our Psychology 101 class. As a freshman, Dave was already a starting defensive back for Dan Devine's Fighting Irish football team. (Another football team member who went on to play in the pros, offensive lineman Tom Thayer, was in Prof Smith's Psych class, too.)  Dave was already a standout player but I got to know him as a bright, upbeat, and intellectually curious student. He went on to star at ND, serving as team Captain our senior year.

David Russell Duerson (November 28, 1960 – February 17, 2011) was an American football safety in the National Football League who played for the Chicago Bears (1983–1989), the New York Giants (1990), and the Phoenix Cardinals (1991–1993)....Duerson was selected to four consecutive Pro Bowls from 1986 to 1989 in his career, and won two championship rings, with the Bears (Super Bowl XX), and with the Giants (Super Bowl XXV). --Wikipedia 

Dave died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Before he died, he sent a message to his family explaining he wanted his brain to be used for research at the Boston University School of Medicine, which is conducting research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions and other forms of head injury. A variant of the condition, dementia pugilistica, is primarily associated with boxing. CTE has been most commonly found in professional athletes participating in gridiron footballice hockeyprofessional wrestling and other contact sports, who have experienced head trauma, resulting in characteristic degeneration of brain tissue and the accumulation of tau protein. Individuals with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy may show symptoms of dementia such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression which may appear within months of the trauma or many decades later. --Wikipedia

I knew Dave personally as an upbeat, energetic, bright, and positive man. I loved watching him on the field as a member of the Fighting Irish and then as a Pro-Bowl player for the Chicago Bears. When he received accolades for his charity work, I felt proud of him. It saddens me to learn that at the end of his shortened life he was in such physical and emotional pain. Yet I am proud of my classmate for thinking of others in his last moments, and preserving his brain for research that may lead to preventing or curing CTE.

I understand the Church's teaching on suicide--that taking one's own life is a sin. I understand, too, that the basis for this teaching is a solemn respect for the immeasurable value of each human life, and the belief that faith in God is sufficient to endure all trials. Suicide is always sad, but unlike the Church I cannot condemn it. I do believe in the immeasurable value of each human life, but I do not comprehend a God that would say, "Let's give Dave CTE and see how he does with it." I only hope Dave's suicide is viewed as a self-sacrifice, a last act of self-less service by a truly remarkable, successful, and gifted man.