Ray Easterling’s widow pushing for change in NFL

Ray Easterling played eight seasons with the Falcons in the 1970s but post-career brain injuries led to his suicide, according to a lawsuit. (AP photo)

Ray Easterling played eight seasons with the Falcons in the 1970s, but brain trauma may have led to his suicide. (AP photo)

She tried to think back to life before her husband first started suffering from sleepless nights and depression, before the memory loss and the dementia, before the suicide.

“The first part of our marriage in Atlanta and Richmond, Ray was wonderful,” Mary Ann Easterling said Thursday. “He was the life of the party. There was always an excuse to get up in the morning. Then when the insomnia and the depression hit, it was like the light went off. The switch was flicked. He no longer enjoyed being around the family. He no longer enjoyed doing the things he always enjoyed.”

It has been seven weeks since former Falcons safety Ray Easterling, 62, was found dead in his Richmond home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The suicide came eight months after the first in a flurry of concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL, a list that has grown to 86 suits, approximately 2,308 former players and 3,400 plaintiffs (including family members).

Easterling’s name was at the top of that initial suit. It follows that, in death, he has become the face for possible change in the NFL.

A master complaint was filed Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. The expected administrative move consolidates the cases in hopes of streamlining the litigation process, a complex paper chase expected to last at least several months.

Two of the plaintiffs were on a conference call Thursday: Easterling’s widow, Mary Ann, and former running back Kevin Turner, who played for Philadelphia and New England and also suffers from ALS.

Turner has arranged to have his brain and spinal cord donated to science when he dies. He said he is not trying to “bring down” the NFL and even would support his sons playing pro football. But he believes the league “turned a blind eye to concussions and the cumulative effect of those. Ten years after retirement, I thought I had just turned into a loser over night. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.”

For 20 years, Mary Ann Easterling dealt with her husband’s mood swings, forgetfulness and anger issues. She said it wasn’t until five years ago when she made a “neurological” connection to the symptoms.

“His memory started to go,” she said. “He couldn’t organize anything. … He would forget where he put things. He was always late to appointments. He lost control of his hands. Then he was diagnosed with dementia.”

You will hear several more stories like this in the coming months. The NFL has long denied knowledge of covering up evidence of long-term effects of concussions. But in the court of public opinion, this will not be an easy battle to win, and my guess is commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners know that.

In the 88-page master complaint, plaintiffs are seeking, “a declaration of liability, injunctive relief, medical monitoring, and financial compensation for the long-term chronic injuries, financial losses, expenses, and intangible losses suffered by the Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs’ Spouses as a result of the Defendants’ intentional tortious misconduct, including fraud, and intentional misrepresentation and negligence.”

The suit charges, among other things, that the NFL, “was aware of the evidence and the risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries virtually at its inception, but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information …”

The NFL has denied knowledge of covering up any evidence of long-term effects of concussions.

Mary Ann Easterling and Turner are pushing for a greater awareness of the effects of concussions and support for players and their families. They also want tighter restrictions on those who suffer head injuries during their careers.

Turner recalled a game when he got knocked unconscious: “I came to on the sideline and asked [a teammate], ‘Are we in Green Bay or Philadelphia?’ If you can’t tell the difference between Lambeau Field and [Veterans Stadium], you’re in trouble. I sat out for 10 or 15 minutes, then I went back in.”

Mary Ann said “home life was peaceful” for the early years of their marriage. She talked about meeting her husband at Bible study. She spoke a little longer, then choked up and the conference call went silent for several seconds, stopped and started again twice.

“I’m concerned about former players who have symptoms and those who will have symptoms,” she said, later. “Their wives and their families should know that help and hope will be available to them.”

Not all stories end as tragically as Easterling’s, but the tragic ones often become the impetus for change.

Previous columns related to NFL concussions

Goodell not fazed by Vilma’s lawsuit, Saints’ blather

Former players more worried about concussions than current ones

Bounties: They’re wrong, and Vilma, Saints, NFLPA just don’t get it

Bounties: NFL violence isn’t the same as premeditated assault

By Jeff Schultz

71 comments Add your comment

5150 UOAD

June 7th, 2012
3:18 pm

EAZY fix and the Players and players union will not like it.
1. either take away protective equipment so the players don’t RISK the KILL SHOT.
2. Players can ONLY play 35 plays per game. Double the number of players on the roster and pay each half as much.

NFL games average 62 plays per game so make players play only 35 plays. If a player is hurt then he sits and another player comes in until he plays 35 plays.
The QBs only get 35 plays and instead of $10 million per year they get $3.333 Million cause you have to pay 3 QBs. 2 play the game and a 3rd has to be there in case one is hurt.

5150 UOAD

June 7th, 2012
3:32 pm

HOW STUPID do you have to be to NOT KNOW that putting your body through Car Crashes everyday for many years you will not SUFFER LONG TERM EFFECTS. Players were PAID better than most fans for doing their JOB.
PICK another JOB or shut up.
WHAT did the NFL need to tell these GUYS?
With the Knowledge from Science would PLAYERS have made the CHOICE to use that College Degree they got to get to the NFL to work instead?

Techman

June 7th, 2012
3:36 pm

I’m not sure who you are talking to, Schultzie, but most reasonable people understand that running full steam into other people who are running full steam could potentially be detrimental to your health.

While sympathetic to anyone who is going through what these players are going through, a reasonable person (IMO) would deduce these men knew what they doing was not healthy. They didn’t have an issue with it as long as they were getting great compensation.

Also, if all of these suicides are attributable to football, why have they just now started happening in bunches?

Ostrich Racer

June 7th, 2012
3:37 pm

Here’s hoping that, between the attention being paid to the NFL’s issues, and all the research the armed forces have done into concussive injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, science can come up with some relief for their pain.

5150 UOAD

June 7th, 2012
3:52 pm

What should we do to COMPENSATE police S.W.A.T members? They have to suffer from PTSD with all the Intense situations they have to deal with and the IMAGE in their head of actually taking the KILL SHOT.
What should we do for Garbage Collectors that are afraid of DOGS because they were BIT and now have problems every time the see a dog?

Ken Stallings

June 7th, 2012
4:33 pm

UOAD, I have read callous attitudes in the past, but your writings here are beyond that. Pathetic and cruel only cover the half of it!

The NFL knew the risks and hid them from the players. Putting a man back on the football field within 15 minutes of being knocked unconcious is reckless. The game has changed since then. It should have changed back then. The reason it did not is because the NFL hid the medical data that showed that it takes multiple concussions, or worse follow-on concussive blows before recovering from a previous one, to cause the sort of dementia and mental health issues players like Easterling suffered from.

Schultz’s column made that point crystal clear. Comments like from UOAD show foolishness and sophomoric rantings!

Techman

June 7th, 2012
4:45 pm

I may not like how 5150 UOAD makes his point but that doesn’t make it any less valid. Again, sympathies to the family but let’s not pretend these guys thought they would be gardening for a living.

5150 UOAD

June 7th, 2012
5:01 pm

Ken Stallings.
I went to visit an Ex-Tech and Chicago Player. He is very much lost in his own mind. He did however make a great life off Football for his family.
If ASKED, how many players would say Coach I don’t want to play?
Contracts are based on games and stat and players EGOS make them WANT to PLAY.
G.I. Jane……………….Are You HURT or are You INJURED?
I would feel a little different if I NEVER PLAYED.
The PLAYERS WANT to play UNLESS they know they can’t play.
The mentality is scary cause EVERYBODY called the BEARS QB a Puzzzzz when he didn’t play after he was hurt but seemed OK.
I would also think differently if this were the old U.S.S.R and a person was told your are a Football Player and you are a Coal minor, but that is not the case.
Like WALL STREET………….there is a RISK REWARD involved in choosing to invest in the MARKET or the NFL.

Hillbilly D

June 7th, 2012
6:18 pm

Mine’s probably not the popular few but I don’t think it’s right to take advantage of people, even if they go along with letting you do it. The powers that be in football knew, and still know, that if they pressure guys to play, they’ll play.

I remember Dick Butkus once saying that he never practiced the last couple of years that he played. He said that you’d think he would’ve had sense enough to know that if he wasn’t able to practice, he wasn’t able to play. He said they’d tell him that he was better hurt than anybody else was healthy and as he said, “I ate it up”.

Firsttimer

June 7th, 2012
6:37 pm

Football did not start in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s. Players played the game in leather helmets with no face masks, not an issue. Head slaps from pass rushers, horse collar tackles, head shots were all legal at one time. Not an issue. Suddenly, big bad football is destroying lives? I smell an alternative motive from most of these former players. And how about the people suffering from Dimentia, Alzheimer’s, and other brain/memory related issues. Do we not care because they never played a down? SO OVER THIS TOPIC and MEDIA DRAMATIZATION.

5150 UOAD

June 7th, 2012
6:43 pm

Hillbilly D…………would those same players take 1/2 as much money to have 3 times as many players on the team so when somebody is hurt they can sit out and not make their Stats to get the Big Bonuses?

5150 UOAD

June 7th, 2012
6:45 pm

Hind-site is 20/20, but Mama’s new home, the 3 new cars in the mansion driveway and my Boys partying with me is TODAY.

Hillbilly D

June 7th, 2012
6:54 pm

5150

The teams would fight a limit on plays for a player just as hard as anybody. You think NE isn’t going to raise hell if Brady can’t play every down? You think Green Bay won’t raise hell if Aaron Rogers has to sit out part of the game? Your premise is flawed, in my opinion.

5150 UOAD

June 7th, 2012
7:00 pm

Hillbilly D…………..Exactly………NFL players DON’T want it fixed. VAGAS and the betters would SCREAM too. Make players play on 35 plays a game and if a player is HURT he can sit, but the BIG MONEY players will cry even more than they are about the late life injuries.

JSS

June 7th, 2012
7:07 pm

So before this way off topic (its headed there), I personally know Tommy Hart and Julius Adams (look them up)… Known both men since the day I can remember… They always told us kids about the seedy side of the NFL 9especially the lack of truthfulness from NFL medical and training staffs (they are two different things)… I always remember either seeing Julius in Boston or back home in Macon and seeing the toll that it was taking on his body… The mind thing did not catch my attention until they introduced me the former Colts great Jim Parker! It was astounding, the league lied to these men on a daily basis. This not about a lot of the side issues that some continue to hound on on this blog… This case revolves around the deception that the NFL used to get players to perform, risk, and then denied that had done by diagnosis and by medical misinformation of diagnosis head injuries and neurological matters. They’ll have to produce data to refute when they show those slides of the damage. And if the family of Wille Wood and Tom Keating roll them into court and let the plaintiffs lawyers show them to a jury, then come and harp of “they knew the risk!”

Hillbilly D

June 7th, 2012
7:17 pm

JSS

Good points. Not sure exactly how old you are but I think you and I both are old enough to have heard the line, “better football through chemistry”. I have a friend whose brother ruined his knee at the college level (won’t name the school but it’s one everybody knows), from being shot up at halftime and sent back out. No telling what all went on in the NFL.

Race horses get treated better than some of these guys have.

Festus

June 7th, 2012
7:51 pm

If you eliminate tackle and replace it with flag football how much interest do you think there would be? Boxers and football players understand there is a risk factor. That why they get all the attention, money and hot women. This isn’t going anywhere because violence is what people enjoy. Why else would one watch an auto race which is basically red necks driving in circles. Wish we had bull fights here in Atlanta. Now that’s really a turn on.

Firsttimer

June 7th, 2012
8:51 pm

Race horces don’t get to choose if they want to race. There are probably cases where players were encouraged to get back in the game. There are probably cases where players insisted on getting back in the game when they knew they should not be playing. There is no way of proving deception on the leagues part. Realistically, it would not benefit the owners, or the league to hide facts from a player. When you sign that player to a contract, it is usually for several years. That player becomes an investment. Think about it..we all take care of our investments. Owners would not want to lose an impact player by lying to him to get an extra game or two out of him. The league would not want it’s superstars endangered it would destroy the league. In a violent game there will be some unhappy endings. Unfortunate, but point blank. Prize fighters take far more blows to the brain, who is educating them on the perils of their profession?

Firsttimer

June 7th, 2012
8:53 pm

Typo..should read race horses.

doc

June 7th, 2012
9:17 pm

the issue is not as much as did the player know but when did they know, how bad was it and did the players get informed what the appropriate treatment should be? identification of injury and proper assessment and protocol after the injury is what is finally happening. that was not the actions of the past. it is now out of the trainers and physicians hands and the care is from an arbitrary source without connection to the team.

some here that argue their points have no answer for my first question and that is where the liability starts. it is not whether guys go in knowing they could get injured nor how much money they made. it is more did they get proper treatment. it is not so much do players know the effects of the sport but really did they get injured, when, how bad and did it get cared for properly, like a bone fracture. players get ankle sprains cared for better than head injuries historically and that is just flat frigging wrong and why there is a law suit.

no one arguing against the lawsuit but merely arguing their bias and agenda can really give a rational response to these points of if there was recognition and appropriate treatment. as they know it is very true. it is the responsibility of any business to be aware of how it puts their employees in the way of harm and what should be the best action if injured. that conscionable stance was overlooked here.

as a trauma doc, i have looked on with horror as the hits get more violent and we yell louder knowing the true long term efects of each and every one of those hits and any hit to the head not identified and treated right if the player gets hit while healing the deficits are much greater. the brain also doesnt heal period, never, ever to baseline.

Beau Bock

June 7th, 2012
9:56 pm

What kind of idiot needs to be told by the NFL that it’s not good for you to to get your head bashed repeatedly. I think I would figure that out rather quickly. This is all just a money grab by a bunch of guys who probably squandred their money away. I even see Ryan Stewart is involved in this. When did he ever hit anyone or get hit? As for this Easterling guy I keep reading about and his mood swings, does anyone stop to consider the man may have just been a dick.

ex-Jock

June 7th, 2012
10:12 pm

Sad as it seems; by the time this bounty mess is resolved; the NFL will be exonerated. The bottom line is; maybe there should better aftercare fro NFL vets, but let’s be honest; all the post free agency (90’s) vets involved in this litigation are cowards. Ray Easterling never earned more than $75K per year. Ryan Stewart et al are being pimped by lawyers. I feel for Easterling’s widow, Alxa Karras, et al; but this case exposes the fallacy of the NFL players “union”

Boo Boo

June 7th, 2012
11:48 pm

Return to leather helmets. Tie belts around all the playes and have colorful flags velcro-ed at two places on the belt. Anyone caught running with the football is down if one flag is pulled off and thrown on the ground. Pay the players so much less they can’t afford designer steroids, and let the fans in for a dollar. Free self-parking in the gravel parking lot. Bring you own hot dogs, charcoal, etc. and make a day of going to the game. At the end, everyone shakes hands and goes home. Players all go to work at a real job on Monday morning.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]

boykin

June 8th, 2012
1:37 am

3:18 UOAD…Stop listening to talk radio…this is absurd!

boykin

June 8th, 2012
3:16 am

5150: What ex-Tech player?

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June 8th, 2012
7:17 am

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Jimmy Crack

June 8th, 2012
7:37 am

WAIVERS! Get yer waivers here!

New sign over all NFL team headquarters…”CAUTION: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK”.

New sign at all Florida beaches…”CAUTION: THE SUN CAN BE DANGEROUS”

New sign at all restaurants…”CAUTION: EAT AT YOUR OWN RISK”

5150 UOAD

June 8th, 2012
7:57 am

boykin….None of your business but he was very famous and you would know the name.

JSS

June 8th, 2012
8:26 am

@ Hillbilly…
49… Julius played in front on my uncle on the D-line at old Ballard Hudson before they broke up the schools to integrate the Bibb County schools. Hart married into my Mom’s family…

JSS

June 8th, 2012
8:34 am

And my uncle had the same thing happen to him in HS before the 1969 State AAA South semi-finals… They shot him up and then he lost a chance for a scholarship at Auburn…

Redcoat

June 8th, 2012
8:43 am

You take the risk of injury and/or death when you wake up each day…….decisions you make for yourself have consequences. No one is different. Why is it that the league can “hide” this info? Did they do it in secret? Does the union accept responsibility for not doing there own study? Are the players going to sue the union too?

Redcoat

June 8th, 2012
8:45 am

5150 UOAD

June 8th, 2012
8:49 am

Dope Smoking has Serious Health Risks but that doesn’t seem to STOP Pro Athletes from Loving the Wacky Weed.

Phil

June 8th, 2012
8:57 am

Every person who climbs into a race car, puts on a pair of boxing gloves, or puts on a football helmet

knows the risks involved. Yet the opportunity for glory and way above average earnings trump the

possible risks. All of these athletes know this from the time they are in grade school.

Jimmy Crack

June 8th, 2012
9:18 am

More Brains!!!

All the NFL has to do is get permission ($$) to exhume some recently deceased ex-college football players who never played in the NFL (due to a variety of reasons…not good enough, bad knees, bad back) and see if those brains have similar damage to what was found in Duerson’s brain.

Case dismissed.

Stank Wren

June 8th, 2012
9:26 am

I find it a little funny that I read 2 articles on Jamal Lewis here in the A J C in the last week. The first article was about how Jamal had joined the concussion lawsuit. A few days later I read a story on here about how he has p*ssed away millions of dollars in and is filing for bankrupcty. I see this issue turning into a money grab for a lot of broke ex-players.

Bobcat

June 8th, 2012
9:32 am

5150 UOAD–Many months ago I sent a letter to ESPN explaining to them that reducing the safety equipment would automatically reduce the extreme violence in the NFL. A couple of weeks ago I sent the same letter to Schultz. In both cases, no response. The reason is the NFL, Players Union, ESPN, and AJC writers all make money on the extreme violence.

If you reduce the violence then fan interest lessens. ESPN and other sports shows reduce their programming by about a third (loss of revenue) and Schultz along with the other writers have nothing to write about except the actual game. How many times have you watched ESPN to see the hits from Sunday’s games, or a batter getting beaned, or a hockey/basketball fight or even basketball players going into the stands to fight with fans. This type of behavior is encouraged because it brings in viewers and viewers mean money and reader/viewership.

Don’t expect to see any real work at reducing violence in any sport because that would reduce the bottom line of the owners, advertisers, sports shows, and print media. Instead, watch for new and improved safety equipment so the violence can increase under the guise of “we’re trying to protect our players.” This way the NFL can fend off or reduce lawsuits while increasing the violence in the game.

Forget Hell

June 8th, 2012
9:40 am

The game has risks. Always has, always will. Too many rules have already been implemented to pussyfy the game. Don’t touch the qb’s head or double team a guy. Horse collar my butt. There is one thing or area that should be addressed: recognize and respect head injuries. If a player gets his bell rung in a game, he should be removed from the game or practice and sent to the showers. That player should be monitored by medical staff and not be allowed to play football until cleared to do so. The medical staff should be from the league, conference, etc. and free of pressure and influence of the coaching staff and organization. There should be mandatory hold-outs such as one game or two weeks, what ever is determined to be appropriate. I feel sorry for the ones that suffered or are suffering, but we all knew we could get hurt. I suspect I’m having some issues, but, in hindsight, all I would have changed is what I have expressed in this paragraph.

Rodster

June 8th, 2012
11:32 am

I agree with the posters who question the validity of this lawsuit. I also understand we didn’t know the longer term implications of head trauma when I played in the 1970’s but everybody certainly knew it was dangerous and we played anyway. I don’t think the NFL is at fault. It’s not really different from any other dangerous occupation. This is just the American cultural norm of today to blame someone for one’s problems. Football players know they wlll get hit in the head. Boxers know they will get hit in the head. Race car drivers know they could get killed in any race.

Larry

June 8th, 2012
11:45 am

“Mary Ann Easterling and Turner are pushing for a greater awareness of the effects of concussions and support for players and their families.”

No, they are pushing for a nice settlement to just go away. This is just an opportunity for all those dolts to grab an easy dollar and there’s always a bottom feeding lawyer willing to get their share too.

eastbound and down

June 8th, 2012
12:05 pm

5150 UOAD

Fortunately for the rest of us, your recommendations are just meaningless rants without any possibility of being implemented. Also, your opinions are without serious merit and substance. go outside, get a breath of fresh air, return to the sofa and veg out in front of the TV.

Stank Wren

June 8th, 2012
1:01 pm

Why don’t these ex players go back and sue their high schools and colleges? Because they know where the big money is and that it is in the pockets of the NFL. I hope these ex-players actually don’t think they can make a judge believe that they never had a concussion until they got to the NFL. I’m sure that the filthy lawyers are lined up trying to get their 30% cut of the money.

It's over

June 8th, 2012
2:28 pm

@ Larry – Touchdown!!!

It’s not like these people were playing tiddlywinks. It’s just so sad to see people stoop so low just because they are envious of how much players make today and how they want their “fair share” in the name of “fairness” and “justice”.

And of course, the fans are the ones who will have to pay for this greed in the end.

Maybe I ought to sue these clowns for trying to steal my entertainment.

Jean Claude Killy

June 8th, 2012
2:38 pm

The Mens downhill cant be quite dangerous as well.

Jean Claude Killy

June 8th, 2012
2:39 pm

sorry “Can”

Shut up ex-NFLers

June 8th, 2012
3:11 pm

Are you telling me that had all these stupid ex-NFLers had known of the dangerous effects the NFL “allegedly” hid, they wouldn’t have played football? This lawsuit is retarded could ruin football if the NFL loses this one.

Do me a favor all you football players:

If you’re depressed and suffer from football-related injuries, DON’T SUE, JUST KILL YOURSELF!!!

Don’t ruin my Sunday entertainment just because your life all of a sudden sucks.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

June 8th, 2012
3:15 pm

Hey Jeff,

Still no blogs on the franchise qb buddy? :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

June 8th, 2012
3:16 pm

Where the heck is Mr. Charlie? :)

Joey

June 8th, 2012
3:38 pm

“It’s just so sad to see people stoop so low just because they are envious of how much players make today and how they want their “fair share” in the name of “fairness” and “justice”.”
**************************************************************
Well gee, I wonder where they get an idea like that?