While there are resources are in place to help prevent the kind of tragedies that played out over a one-week period in Kansas City, Mo., and Dallas, the challenge lies in getting NFL players to use them.

"Men in general don't like talking about the things that trouble them the most," said Lamonte Winston, the Raiders' director of player engagement. "You get men in this environment of a competitive nature, and around their peers, it's a lot easier to stick your head in the sand. It's a lot easier to have secrets."

On Dec. 1, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, then drove to the team facility and committed suicide in the presence of head coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs.

A week later, Cowboys practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown Jr. was killed when a car driven by teammate Josh Brent struck a curb and flipped. The two had been at a Dallas club, and Brent was arrested and charged with intoxication manslaughter.

The two events illustrated many of the issues that are addressed each year at the NFL rookie symposium -- spousal abuse, alcohol abuse, depression, possession of firearms and making responsible decisions.

Winston has spent 25 years in player development, including 17 years with the Chiefs. An annual award given by the league that recognizes the NFL's most outstanding player development program is called the Winston-Shell award because he and former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Donnie Shell are considered innovators in the field.


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Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie hired Winston to the newly created position of director of player engagement, with former director of squad development Willie Brown becoming a team ambassador.

Brown had many of the responsibilities Winston has with regard to player issues but also had other duties on his plate. Winston's full-time mission is to keep track of how players are faring in their lives and providing advice, counsel and resources.

Winston's last season with the Chiefs corresponded with Belcher's rookie year in 2009.

"I got a chance to know Jovan, and the men that are on that team, and the Chiefs family in general is just devastated," Winston said.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen has addressed his team in the wake of both tragedies and issued reminders about personal responsibility and making the correct decisions.

"You can't look at these guys as just football players," Allen said. "They're people, and we care about these people more than just as a football player. We want guys to know we have resources available to help them no matter what the circumstances are."

Raiders cornerback Michael Huff said, "In our profession you have young guys with a lot of money. Things happen. You don't wish for them to happen, but they do."

Winston's job includes a tricky mix of maintaining confidentiality while, in some cases, needing to report to McKenzie and Allen for others.

"The big hurdle is the trust factor," Winston said. "Can I trust this man if I tell him about my issues? Can he work with me? And if I trust him, will he run and tell the general manager and the head coach?"

Winston talks on occasion to the team as a whole but said his most important work comes in brief interactions on a daily basis with players that sometimes take no more than 30 seconds.

According to the Kansas City Star, Belcher and his girlfriend had been undergoing counseling provided by the team over relationship and financial issues.

Winston said in the case of depression, players often don't understand what they're feeling and why.

Regarding the possession of firearms, defensive end Andre Carter said players get a yearly seminar on registration, the difference in gun laws from state to state and talks about responsible ownership.

Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, a Raiders defensive end in 2003-04, described a drinking culture where many players would head for either San Francisco or Los Angeles after practice Friday for a night of partying.

"It's a staple of Friday nights in the NFL," Gbaja-Biamila wrote. "Guys are in the clubs buying top-shelf liquor in VIP booths. It's the NFL players 'weekend,' a time to have fun sipping your drink of choice."

The NFL Players Association has a confidential safe-ride program that allows players to schedule limo service in advance, as well as an emergency ride service for players who fear they have had too much to drink.

Carter acknowledged poor judgment is all too common.

"Sometimes we get so dumb within our heads thinking we're invincible, and we're not," he said.

Winston said the Chiefs and Cowboys tragedies are "a sober reminder that life doesn't discriminate because you're in the NFL ... the environment we work in is a high-pressure, high-performance business, and a lot of times we can get caught up in the game and lose perspective."

Whether players will take heed of the two tragedies is another matter.

"When something happens, it's a top priority and then it kind of dies away and it's like, 'What's next?' " Raiders linebacker Omar Gaither said. "Maybe one or two guys will change the way they operate as far as drinking and (other issues), but overall it needs to be more up front every week, and not just when something happens."

Carter, 33, said there are more resources available for help than at any time in his 12-year NFL career. But he isn't sure how many players will ask for it.

"As men, sometimes our ego gets in the way of what we actually need," he said. "It's sad. We all need some type of outlet. We all need some type of help. But sometimes we're just so focused on, 'I'm a grown man. I can figure it out for myself.' "

For more on the Raiders, visit the Inside the Oakland Raiders blog at ibabuzz.com/oaklandraiders. Follow Jerry McDonald on twitter at Twitter.com/Jerrymcd.