Former Atlanta Falcons Safety Easterling Dead at 62

Local media quoted police as saying that Easterling committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

He was one of seven former NFL players who filed a lawsuit against the league last year, accusing it of concealing links between football and brain injuries.

“The goal is to see that the NFL takes responsibility for what they tried to bury for so many decades and establish a fund for players to access when they find that they’re in (situations like Easterling’s),” his wife, Mary Ann Easterling, said.

Easterling was a safety for the Atlanta Falcons from 1972 to 1979 and was part of the team’s “Gritz Blitz” defense in 1977, setting a league record for fewest points allowed in a season.

Mary Ann Easterling said she began noticing changes in her husband’s personality about 20 years ago, and the severity of the symptoms grew over the years.

“He had difficulty with insomnia … began dealing with depression,” she said, adding that she suspected dementia after reading about other former NFL players with similar problems.

Ray Easterling was diagnosed with dementia a year ago.

Former Chicago Bears -winning quarterback Jim McMahon is also among the seven who filed the high-profile lawsuit against the NFL.

He told Reuters early last year that while he could “kind of remember” winning a Super Bowl, he had difficulty remembering simple things, such as why he had walked into a room.

The NFL has dismissed allegations that it deliberately misled players.

The league has also created a concussion awareness website and has levied heavy fines on players for helmet-to-helmet hits during recent seasons.

Easterling’s wife said he had relentlessly battled dementia and had continued to go jogging in his Richmond, Virginia neighborhood after the diagnosis.

“Neighbors would go out and encourage him. If he looked like he was going to stumble or not be able to get back, they would help him out,” she said.

“I’ve just come off an evening of people sharing memories of him and how much he meant to them,” she said, shortly after a house gathering. “It’s made me love him that much more.”

(Editing by Greg McCune; David Brunnstrom)

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Ray Easterling, 62, of 1970s Atlanta Falcons’ Grits Blitz

The Richmond, Va., police captain Yvonne on Saturday that Easterling died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Richmond. His wife, Mary Ann Easterling, said that after he left football, Easterling experienced depression, insomnia and then dementia that she attributed to years of bruising hits.

Easterling played for the Falcons from 1972 to 1979 and was part of the team’s Grits Blitz defense in 1977 that set the N.F.L. record at the time for the fewest points allowed in a season, 129.

He was part of a group of seven former players who sued the league in Philadelphia in August, contending that it had failed to properly treat players for concussions and for decades had tried to conceal any links between football and brain injuries. The N.F.L. has said that any allegation that it intentionally sought to mislead players is without merit.

Ms. Easterly said she would continue to pursue the lawsuit and urge the league to establish a fund for players with traumatic brain injuries related to their playing days.

“Half the time the player puts themselves back in the game, and they don’t know what kind of impact it has,” she said. “Somehow this has got to be stopped.”

Easterling was born on Sept. 3, 1949, and played football at the University of Richmond. He was drafted by the Falcons as a ninth-round pick in 1972 and played for four years as a starter. He was a leader of the secondary that established a team record in 1977 with 26 interceptions.

After his playing days ended, he returned to Richmond, where he ran a financial services company and started a youth football camp. His wife and friends said that he started showing signs of brain damage about 20 years ago.

“He just wasn’t thinking right,” said Greg Brezina, a former Falcons teammate. “You could tell that 20 years ago. He’d start talking to you about one topic, and then he’d end up in another topic and he wouldn’t know how he got there.”

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