ESPN The Magazine’s “Photo Issue,” on newsstands Friday, features “Junior Seau: A Life in Pictures.”
Front Row asked The Magazine’s Senior Writer Dave Fleming and Senior Editor Megan Greenwell for insight on the feature.
How did the idea for this story come about?
MG: Early in the planning process, we discussed the idea of having a story that gave the photo issue emotional heft. Our photo department was excited about telling a narrative entirely through photos, and with the anniversary of Seau’s death approaching, and knowing his style of play and circumstances surrounding his death, we felt he was a one-of-a-kind character to tell that type of story through. We first approached ESPN’s [NFL analyst, SportsNation co-host and former Seau NFL teammate] Marcellus Wiley, a close friend of Seau’s who sent the request to [Seau’s ex-wife] Gina Seau, who was so gracious and eager to have Junior’s life remembered.
DF: By this time, we had less than a week to put the entire piece together. In one day, I went to San Diego and spent the day with [photographer] Sarah Weissman inside Gina’s house, going through dozens of albums and hundreds of photos. By the time we scanned the photos and finished the captions it was close to 9 p.m. — a draining but productive day. Our team in Bristol started picking photos right away and I sent the first copy and captions in two days later.
How did you obtain such tremendous access to the Seau family photo collection?
DF: Several people had a hand in setting this up. In the end, all the credit goes to Gina, her kids and Junior’s extended family. Even though they are still grieving and hurting, they fought through that because they believed it was important to tell his story. And as gut wrenching and heart breaking and exhausting as it was, Gina never flinched or wavered. Her strength and her commitment to Junior’s memory was amazing.
Did you have a close relationship with the Seau family?
DF: I didn’t know him beyond my normal interaction and coverage of the NFL during the last 20 years. Because of experiences in my own life, I have a unique understanding and perspective on the intersection of death and sports and, as a result, have done a lot of writing on the topic. But, I must say, the day we spent with Gina was unlike anything else I’ve ever done. At one point Gina, Sarah and I — along with Gina’s giant chocolate lab — were sitting on the floor of a crowded closet, surrounded by Junior’s suits and favorite hats looking through dozens of family photo albums. Suddenly, Gina paused and brought her hands to her mouth. She had come across a term paper Junior had written at USC. She read part of it out loud and the words were chilling and prophetic, as if Junior was talking to us directly. The last line was: “I’m working twice as hard now so I can be twice as satisfied later in life.” The three of us sat there in silence for a long time after that.