Paul Oliver’s suicide is latest in a string among former NFL players

Posted on: 7:45 pm, September 26, 2013, by , updated on: 06:58pm, September 26, 2013

(CNN) — Paul Oliver, a former defensive back for the University of Georgia and the San Diego Chargers, was found dead this week, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot.

His death marks the latest in a string of suicides among former professional football players.

“Everyone in the Chargers family is sad today after hearing the news about Paul,” a statement from the NFL team said. “He was part of our family for five years. At just 29 years old, he still had a lifetime in front of him. Right now all of our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this most difficult time.”

Oliver leaves behind a wife and two children, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“We appreciate all the thoughts and prayers,” Oliver’s family said in a statement to The San Diego Union-Tribune. “We request privacy in the wake of this tragic loss.”

Mark Richt, coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs, called it “a very sad day.”

“I just want to say it’s been rough,” he told reporters. “I just want to tell everybody in his family that we’re thinking about them and we love them. We’ll do whatever we can to help.”

Police found Oliver’s body Tuesday night at the bottom of a set of stairs in a home in Marietta, Georgia, Cobb County police spokesman Sgt. Dana Pierce said. A family member had called 911.

The county medical examiner ruled the death a suicide by handgun and gave police authorization to release the cause.

Oliver played for the Chargers from 2007 to 2011, recording 144 tackles in 57 games.

A former teammate, Eric Weddle, described Oliver as “charismatic, funny but also quiet and reserved,” The Union-Tribune reported. “He never said a bad word about anyone. Just a good, genuine guy.”

Oliver’s high school coach in Georgia, Bruce Cobleigh, said Oliver was a leader.

“This is a real tough situation for everybody because this isn’t Paul,” Cobleigh told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin. “This is surprising, shocking. He was really outgoing. He was really well-liked, a leader, hard, hard worker.’

Cobleigh said he hadn’t talked with his former player in recent years as much as when he was in Georgia, but the coach had fielded calls much of Wednesday from former teammates of Oliver who were all surprised by his death.

The circumstances of his apparent suicide were not immediately clear.

Suicides of some other former NFL players involved brain injuries.

Star NFL linebacker Junior Seau was 43 when he took his own life in May 2012. The National Institutes of Health later found he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative brain disease that can follow multiple hits to the head.

A study published in December in the journal Brain looked at brain tissue of 34 professional football players after they died. All but one showed evidence of disease.

In April 2012, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, 62, committed suicide. An autopsy found signs of CTE.

In February 2011, former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, 50, committed suicide with a gunshot to the chest, rather than his head, so his brain could be researched for CTE. Boston University researchers found the disease in his brain.

In December 2012, Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs killed his girlfriend before taking his own life. His remains were not tested for CTE, media reports said.

The NFL launched a crisis support line in July 2012 for players, former players and their families. Called NFL Life Line, it operates independently from the NFL and promises to keep all calls confidential.

“There is no higher priority for the National Football League than the health and wellness of our players,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to personnel and fans at the time.