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Former San Diego Chargers safety Paul Oliver commits suicide in Georgia

By Tim Gaynor

(Reuters) - Former San Diego Chargers safety Paul Oliver, 29, has shot and killed himself at his home in an Atlanta suburb, police said on Wednesday.

Oliver was found dead on Tuesday night in Marietta, Georgia, about 20 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, a spokesman for the Cobb County Police Department said.

The Cobb County Medical Examiner's Office said that Oliver, a member of the Chargers from 2007 to 2011, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"Everyone in the Chargers family is sad today after hearing the news about Paul," the NFL team said in a statement posted on the team's website.

"He was part of our family for five years. At just 29 years old, he still had a lifetime in front of him," the team said. "Right now all of our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this most difficult time."

Oliver's death came almost 17 months after former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau shot himself to death at his home in Oceanside, California.

A study of Seau's brain by a team of independent researchers found he had suffered from chronic encephalopathy, or CTE, likely brought on by two decades of blows to the head as a football player.

It was also the latest in a spate of suicides among current and former NFL players, including Jovan Belcher, Ray Easterling and Dave Duerson.

While none of those deaths was directly connected to football, violent and erratic behavior is consistent with symptoms of a condition tied to the repeated hits to the head that players endure during games and practices.

In August, the National Football League agreed to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit brought by thousands of former players, many suffering from dementia and health problems, who accused the league of hiding the dangers of brain injury while profiting from the sport's violence.

It was not immediately clear if Oliver had been part of the lawsuit.

The NFL has made changes in play, including banning the most dangerous helmet-to-helmet hits and requiring teams to keep players who have taken hits to the head off the field if they show symptoms including gaps in memory or dizziness.

Oliver was drafted out of the University of Georgia in the fourth round of the 2007 supplemental draft, playing for the Chargers for the first time the following year.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)

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