The family of Junior Seau, the former San Diego Charges player who died on Wednesday, has agreed to let researchers study his brain.

Police found Seau, who had a 20-year career in the NFL, at his home in southern California, having died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He was 43.

Chargers chaplain Shawn Mitchell told the LA Times that Seau's family had decided to allow researchers to study his brain for any evidence of damage as a result of repeated concussions. Seau's death has reopened discussion over the long-term damage caused by head injuries sustained on the football field.

"The family was considering this almost from the beginning, but they didn't want to make any emotional decisions," Mitchell said. "And when they came to a joint decision that absolutely this was the best thing, it was a natural occurrence for the Seau family to go forward."

Seau played most of his 20-season career with the Chargers but also spent time with the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. He was inducted last year into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.

Mitchell said the family came to the decision to allow Seau's brain to be studied "to help other individuals down the road". He said the decision of who will study Seau's brain has not yet been made. There has been speculation that researchers at Boston University may conduct the analysis.

Seau's death comes after Ray Easterling, a safety for the Atlanta Falcons in 1970s, killed himself on 19 April.

In 2011 Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest. Duerson, a safety who had been suffering from burred eyesight, headaches and moodswings before his death, left a note requesting his brain be given over to researchers. When Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy examined Duerson's brain, they found "huge" damage, a result of repeated blows to the head.

Mitchell said on Thursday that Seau was likely to have suffered repeated concussions during his football career.

"He would go in head-first," he said, adding that a link between his career and death was something to consider because Seau played for so long as a linebacker – an "incredibly violent position".

He added, however, that Seau's family had not mentioned any concerns about recurrent head injuries contributing to the retired player's suicide at his beachfront home in Oceanside, just north of San Diego.

The San Diego Chargers released a statement through its Facebook page expressing "shock and disbelief" at Seau's death. On Thursday the team's website was given over to a video entitled USC remembers Junior Seau, looking back at some of his best sporting moments.

© Guardian News and Media 2012

[Junior Seau via chrisphoto / Flickr]