No doubt Junior Seau, the former Chargers great who committed suicide last May, put the game above his health on multiple occasions throughout his sterling career. On Thursday it was revealed by ESPN that Seau’s brain showed signs of chronic trauma, a condition that may well have led to his taking his own life. It’s an afterword not likely to be mentioned by NFL Films.

Meanwhile, the dozens of TV programs featuring dudes talking football, not to mention the thousands of similar radio shows, are replete with talk of how the modern game isn’t “real football,” with safety concerns taking all the true grit out of the sport. Over in the social-media realm, current and former players weigh in, pressuring their brethren to “man up” in similar fashion as their predecessors and colleagues, or be castigated as Jay Cutler and LaDainian Tomlinson were after not being carried off on their shields.

Lewis, as it happens, will have a sizable platform from which to castigate or inspire the concussed and the folded and spindled. He reportedly is already ticketed for ESPN’s Monday Night Football’s shoulder programming, taking part in the pre- and post-game repartee. His on-air colleagues should be pumped up for telecasts as never before (one wonders if Lewis will do his patented “squirrel dance” on the set), but his mere presence on national television will only serve as a reminder of the rewards of the warrior mentality (as though the litany of national television ads and hagiographical features on Lewis over the years didn’t pound home that point enough).

Remember that when the next player gets “jacked up,” to use ESPN’s bygone phraseology for being rendered hors de combat. When the time comes to make a decision about going back into the fray, will the player be thinking about Junior Seau, or Ray Lewis? My money’s on Ray Ray.


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Robert Weintraub is the author of The House That Ruth Built. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Slate, and a television writer/producer based in Atlanta.