Legendary NFL linebacker Junior Seau was found dead at his home in Oceanside, Calif., the Associated Press confirmed on Wednesday afternoon. According to TMZ, police are treating the case as a possible suicide.
The 43-year-old Seau was found by his girlfriend after he suffered a gunshot wound to the chest, police say. Police were called to Seau's house at around 10 a.m. PT, TMZ reported. Also according to TMZ, Seau sent text messages to his ex-wife and his three children yesterday telling them that he loved them.
Back in October 2010, Seau was arrested on a domestic violence allegation, then was hospitalized after he drove his car off a cliff in California. Seau told investigators that he fell asleep prior to the accident.
"Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now," the team said in a statement. "We ask everyone to stop what they're doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family."
Seau, who is eligible for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame beginning in 2015, was a 12-time Pro Bowler and 10-time All-Pro during a career that spanned from 1990-2009. He was the No. 5 overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers and went on to play 13 seasons for them.
After that, Seau moved on to Miami, where he played from 2003-05, before finishing his career with New England.
One of the best linebackers in league history, Seau accumulated more than 1,500 tackles in his career, as well as 56.5 sacks and 18 interceptions. He was named to the Chargers' 50th anniversary team and was inducted into the franchise's Hall of Fame.
"I can't put into words how I'm feeling right now. I'm shocked and devastated," Chargers president Dean Spanos said in a statement. "Junior was my friend. We all lost a friend today. Junior was an icon in our community. He transcended the game. He wasn't just a football player, he was so much more. He was loved by everyone in our family, our organization and throughout the NFL. This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine. My prayers go out to Junior's family. It's heartbreaking."
Seau is the eighth member of the 1994 AFC champion San Diego Chargers team to have died. Before him, David Griggs, Rodney Culver, Doug Miller, Curtis Whitley, Chris Mims, Shawn Lee and Lew Bush all passed away. Bush was the most recent player from that team to suffer a tragic end, as he died last December of a heart attack.
If Seau's death is indeed deemed a suicide, it would be strikingly similar to that of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson, who took his own life by shooting himself in the chest so his brain could be studied. The NFL has gone to great lengths in recent years to protect its players from head trauma, but the long-term effects of the sport's violence remains a much-debated topic. There's no evidence that Seau's death is linked in any way to brain damage suffered during his playing career, however. "It is a sad, sad day not only for me, but for the whole sports community," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "I worked with Junior here and later in Miami. I can tell you no one had more character and true leadership ability than Junior. He brought passion to the game of football that was unmatched. His commitment to charitable causes in the community was inspiring. It was an honor to know him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."