By Joseph Schuman

Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl (all-star game) selection who played for 20 years in the NFL, was found unconscious by his girlfriend on Wednesday with a gunshot wound to the chest and a revolver nearby, police said. The former San Diego Chargers linebacker was 43.

"At this time, the Medical Examiner's Office is awaiting the family's decision regarding study of the brain for repetitive injury by researchers outside of the office," the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office said.

The Seau family's pastor, Shawn Mitchell, a former chaplain for the Chargers, said Seau likely suffered concussions during his long football career.


The league disputes the claims in the suits, which accuse it of concealing links between football and brain injuries.

"Any allegation that the NFL intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit," Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the league, said in a statement.

"It stands in contrast to the league's actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions," Aiello said.

Seau's death was at least the third suicide by a former NFL player since February 2011, when former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson killed himself and left a note asking that his brain be studied. Less than a month ago, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling shot himself to death at age 62.

Easterling, a plaintiff in one of the suits against the NFL, had been diagnosed with dementia, and his wife said after his death that she wanted the league to "take responsibility."

Seau, who played for the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots after leaving the Chargers, retired after the 2009 season.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)