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Lorenzo Neal reflects on the pressures of being Junior Seau

Obit Seau Football

A San Diego Chargers hat with the words “Thank you, Junior” sits in front of the doors of former NFL football player Junior Seau’s restaurant, Wednesday, May 2, 2012, in San Diego. The former NFL star was found shot to death at his home in what police said appeared to be a suicide. He was 43. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

AP

As a friend of Junior Seau, Lorenzo Neal said that when he learned of Seau’s death today, his reaction was, “We lost a great man.” But as a player who had a lengthy career before recently retiring, Neal had another reaction to the news that Seau’s death was an apparent suicide: Neal understands the pressures that Seau was under.

Neal said in an interview on NBC Sports Talk that Seau wanted badly to please everyone, and he could always do that by playing football well, which came naturally to him. But it was harder for Seau to continue to make a difference when football was over.

“I know Junior -- I know the man,” Neal said. “People think, ‘These guys are grown men playing a kid’s game, getting a king’s ransom.’ They don’t understand sometimes the pressure. You’ve got to realize, you walk out on the field, there’s thousands of people watching you in the stands. There’s millions of people watching you at home. And you’re revered as a gladiator. And even if you’re still doing things after football, after your career, there’s no stage like that football field.”

Neal played 17 years in the NFL and retired after the 2008 season, and he said he can understand why it was so difficult for Seau, who played 20 years and retired after the 2009 season, to adjust to live after football.

“When you’re out, it’s not the crash that kills you, it’s the sudden stop,” Neal said. “The first year was tough. You watch the game that you’ve been part of for so long . . . and it’s gone. . . . You’ve been put on a pedestal, and it’s taken from you, your time has expired -- your shelf life. And people don’t understand.”

Here’s Neal’s interview: