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NFL provided help for Jovan Belcher

The NFL has a hotline for those who need support, but culture can get in the way.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In the final days of Jovan Belcher's life, he could have taken advantage of numerous avenues for support provided by the Kansas City Chiefs and the NFL.

This past July, the NFL established an emergency hotline that operates 24 hours a day and connects players, staff, and family members in crisis with mental-health professionals who are not affiliated with the league or its teams. There are also numerous symposiums and support personnel whose jobs are to ensure the well-being of the players.

But as many players suggested, having support available is only half of the equation. They must also take advantage of it, and that means a willingness to admit when they have problems.

"Mental health continues to be, in general society, an area that often has a stigma attached to it," said Robert Gulliver, the NFL's chief human resources officer. "We're trying to change that culture and break down that stigma and show people that mental is part of total health."

That stigma is pervasive in the NFL, where a macho culture has been long ingrained.

In numerous interviews with current and former players, several told the Associated Press that the same attitude that carried them to the NFL - that in some ways they are indestructible - makes it difficult for them to reconcile needing outside help.