Ray Easterling, of Atlanta’s Grits Blitz, Dies at 62

Published: April 21, 2012

ATLANTA (AP) — Ray Easterling, a former Atlanta Falcons safety who helped lead the team’s vaunted defense in the 1970s and later joined a high-profile lawsuit against the National Football League over its handling of concussion-related injuries, died on Thursday. He was 62.

Ray Easterling in 1975. (Associated Press)

The Richmond, Va., police captain Yvonne Crowder told FoxSports.com 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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