Former Safety Ray Easterling dies at 62

Ray Easterling was a member of the Atlanta Falcons’ “Grits Blitz” defense of the 1970s.  He helped lead the team’s vaunted defense for four years and later became the first of many players to file a lawsuit against the NFL, targeting the league’s handling of concussion related injuries.  The former defensive back died in his home in Virgina on Thursday at the age of 62.

Easterling’s wife, Mary Ann, found her husband and contacted the police early Thursday morning.  When the police arrived, Easterling was dead with a handgun near by, Richmond police Captain Yvonne Crowder told

“Based on our investigation, we are ruling it a suicide,” Crowder said.

Ray Easterling went to the University of Richmond and was drafted by Atlanta with the 9th round pick in 1972.  He led the Falcons’ defensive secondary for four years and in 1977 helped establish a team record of 26 interceptions in a season.  That same year, the defensive back also set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a season (129 points).

After his playing days were over, Easterling started to suffer from the years of bone crushing hits and physical play.  He suffered from depression and insomnia, and as his dementia progressed he lost the ability to focus, organize his thoughts and relate to people, his wife said.  He also underwent 25 orthopedic surgeries, including a hip replacement, and was diagnosed with dementia in March of 2011.

Easterling was a part of the group of former players that sued the NFL in Philadelphia in August.  The players were claiming that the league failed to properly treat players for concussions and tried to conceal for decades links between football and head injuries.  Despite her husband’s death, his wife will fight to continue the lawsuit.  She will also urge the league to establish a fund for players like her husband who suffered from dramatic head injuries from their playing days.