- Associated Press - Thursday, July 26, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - 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.

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