NEW YORK — In an offseason marked by Junior Seau's suicide and scores of lawsuits over brain injuries, the NFL on Thursday launched a comprehensive wellness program for current and retired players — including a confidential mental health Life Line.
"There is no higher priority for the National Football League than the health and wellness of our players," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in an email Thursday to more than 11,000 players announcing NFL Total Wellness. "This service is here for you."
An outside agency will run NFL Life Line, a free consultation service to inform players and family members about the signs of crisis, symptoms of common mental health problems, as well as where to get help. Experts in suicide prevention and substance abuse are among those involved in developing and administering the program.
The site also features special video messages from various NFL stars, including Brett Favre, Michael Irvin, Michael Strahan, Herschel Walker, Jevon Kearse and Cris Carter, urging players to get help and know they are not alone.
The announcement came as many training camps are getting under way.
It also comes just days after former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler became the latest big name from the NFL's past to sue the league over head injuries.
Stabler is the first plaintiff among 73 listed in a federal lawsuit filed Monday in Philadelphia, where other cases involving more than 2,400 players recently were consolidated into one master complaint.
Like Stabler, the other retirees claim the NFL did not do enough to shield them from the long-term effects of repeated hits to the head, even when medical evidence established a connection between head trauma in football and health problems later in life.
Stabler, 66, claimed in the lawsuit he has experienced cognitive difficulties, including headaches, dizziness, depression, fatigue, sleep problems, irritability and numbness/tingling in his spine.
Others raised questions only after their deaths.
Seau's family recently requested that brain tissue of the NFL linebacker be sent to the National Institutes of Health for examination.
The former All-Pro died May 2 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He was 43, just 2 1/2 years retired from a career that saw him chosen to 12 Pro Bowls.
His death had similarities to that of former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest last year. Duerson left a suicide note, asking that his brain be studied for signs of trauma.
While not mentioning the lawsuits or deaths, Goodell's emailed letter noted that members of the NFL family are not immune to challenges all individuals face.
The video messages emphasize that.
Irvin, in a poignant message filmed last month, addressed his "brothers" and urged them to be open.
"We are part of an NFL family," Irvin said. "We do have to look out for one another the way we did on the football field. . We have to share with one another . but we don't talk. We shut up and . we implode. We put ourselves in isolation and that's the worst thing you can do."
Thursday's announcement came following a meeting at NFL offices attended by Goodell, Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. Surgeon General, and NFL execs Robert Gulliver and Troy Vincent, who will direct the new program.
Satcher has conducted 14 mental health forums for NFL retired players over the past two years and will coordinate more events across the country as well as online webinars.
Gulliver, NFL executive vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer, helped spearhead quality-of-workplace initiatives in the league office. Vincent, vice president of NFL Player Engagement, will continue to provide players with advice to thrive during and after their playing careers.
Gulliver and Vincent are charged with establishing an advisory board that will include former players and coaches and medical professionals. The board in part will help develop a training program for peer counselors and transition coaches.
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