Easterling, a safety for the Falcons from 1972 to 1979, was a part of the 1977 "Grits Blitz" team that gave up a then-record low 129 points in a season. In 2011, Easterling joined six others and filed suit in Philadelphia against the NFL in which it is alleged the league failed to properly treat players with concussions and sought to cover up any connection between football and brain injuries. Easterling suffered from long-term depression often associated with brain trauma and was recently diagnosed with dementia.
For about 20 years, Easterling had suffered through bouts of depression and insomnia, symptoms researchers have linked to repeated head trauma. Easterling, who also underwent 25 orthopedic surgeries, including a hip replacement, was diagnosed with dementia in March 2011, his wife, Mary Ann Easterling, told FOXSports.com.
"He had been feeling more and more pain," Mary Ann Easterling said. "He felt like his brain was falling off. He was losing control. He couldn't remember things from five minutes ago. It was frightening, especially somebody who had all the plays memorized as a player when he stepped on the field."
It's hard not to immediately think of Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bear who took his own life as he began to feel the same deterioration with which Easterling was diagnosed. Research on his brain (at Duerson's request) later confirmed Duerson's suspicions. For Easterling, however, there was a diagnosis he lived with, one that friends and families saw coming 20 years ago.
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."
Easterling's wife has said she will continue with the suit and hopes to have the League start a fund to support players who suffered similar brain injuries while playing.
Easterling death ruled a suicide [Fox]
Ray Easterling, of Atlanta's Grits Blitz, Dies at 62 [NY Times]
Duerson's Brain Trauma Diagnosed [NY Times]