BY SHAWN MCFARLAND

Over the last couple of years, concussions have been pushed to the front of the sports world. Concussion awareness has risen dramatically mainly due to the rapid growth of head injuries in football and hockey. Whereas years ago players would be able to talk themselves back into the game just minutes after taking a serious blow, now a plethora of tests must be done by a team's training staff before the player can even think about going back out and competing.

Nowadays many studies are being done on both the short-term and long-term effects of head injuries. Even high schools have started a new IMPACT test to gauge the 'baseline' of an athlete's mental capacity. Unfortunately, computer tests can only show a doctor so much. It is only when they actually get to examine the physical brain that doctors can see the real damage taking place.

Sadly, the medical world will have yet another brain to study after Wednesday's events.

Ex-NFL linebacker Junior Seau, who is mostly known for his time in San Diego along with his short stints in Miami and New England, shot himself in the chest at his San Diego home two days ago. He was 43-years-young.

Seau is the second former NFL player to commit suicide in the last two weeks. Ray Easterling, a safety for the Atlanta Falcons in the 1970s and a plaintiff in a largely-known lawsuit against the NFL for its mishandling of concussions, also shot himself back on April 19. While it is impossible to immediately know if concussions and head trauma contributed to Seau's death, it isn't that hard to draw a connection.

The thing that leads me to believe that concussions definitely played a major role in Seau's death is the fact that he knowingly shot himself in the chest to preserve his brain. Chris Duerson, who also played safety in the 80s and 90s, was found dead last year from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Prior to killing himself he had sent a text message to his family saying that he wanted his brain to be used for research at the Boston University School of Medicine. The University just happened to be studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurological degenerative disease, caused by playing professional football. Less than two months later it was confirmed that he had suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions. Although Seau did not leave a note or send any other texts besides "I love you" to his wife and three children before committing the act, it is too eerily similar to Duerson's actions to believe it was merely a coincidence.

It's a shame to think that someone was in that bad of mental shape, whether he was suffering from dementia or deep depression, and still had the wherewithal to know to preserve his brain in hopes of helping the future. Seau had decided that he didn't want to deal with his issues any more. Regardless of one's view on suicide, either religiously or politically, they can't say he did it selfishly. He may have hurt his family members in the process, but obviously he was hurting just as much. At least he knowingly left the part of him that could perhaps save future athletes from a similar fate.

This latest incident will only add to the ongoing media attention being given to head injuries. The NFL currently has a large number of lawsuits being brought against it for its previous lack of concussion safety and prevention.

The NFL now finds itself between a rock and a hard place. I would bet in the coming years that it will almost certainly be forced to change its rules even further. Sooner or later I would expect that any player who is forced from a game with any kind of head injury will absolutely not be allowed back that day. And if a concussion is suspected, he will be ruled out for at least a month.

Furthermore, the NFL will probably have to make even stricter rule changes. This is where the problem comes in. No matter what precautions are taken, football is a violent sport. So does the NFL not change its rules and perhaps take on the perception of not taking action on the subject, or does it make more hits illegal and remove kickoffs at the expense of being called 'soft' by its players and fans?

I find it kind of funny that while almost every football player says they willingly played through concussions and would still do the same if they had to do it over again, they are awfully quick to sue the league once their playing days are over. Tell me how that works. If you knew the consequences at the time, don't act like you didn't know them afterward. Instead of suing the league, how about letting them put that money toward more medical research.

Times are changing when it comes to head injuries in the world of sports, especially football. Hopefully all of the heartache now will lead to a better understanding in the future.

RIP Junior Seau.