The Legacy of Ray Easterling
To date, 61 lawsuits covering over 1,200 former players have been filed against the NFL over the issue of concussions.
How did this floodgate of lawsuits begin? Who had the courage to take on the NFL and get this avalanche started?
It was Ray Easterling………and no one should ever forget that.
He was part of a group of seven former players who sued the league in Philadelphia on August 17, 2011, 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. Ray’s wife, Mary Ann Easterling is also a plaintiff in that law suit.
As most of you know, we lost Ray last Thursday when he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Richmond, Va. If you haven’t done so already, please send your condolences to the family at this website: Ray Easterling Legacy Guestbook
His wife Mary Ann said “He had been feeling more and more pain. 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.”
Both Ray and I played football at the University of Richmond. He graduated 7 years before I got there and went on to play for the Atlanta Falcons from 1972-1979. Ray’s last year in the NFL was my first year. In 1979 I got drafted by the Buffalo Bills. That same year, Ray personally came to the University and searched for me. When he finally found me, he asked me if I wanted to work out with him to get in shape for my first year in the NFL. I said yes, but little did I know what I was getting into.
Before we started working out, I thought I was in good shape, but he showed me I wasn’t even close to being in the kind of condition I needed to be in – physically, mentally and even more importantly, spiritually. Ray ran me ragged on the track, on the football field and in our cross-country workouts. He made me do more than I thought I could do in the weight room. He pushed me beyond the boundaries of endurance that I set for myself. I don’t know if Ray knew how much he helped me – not only in preparing me for the game of pro football – but in preparing me for the game of life.
Now I sit here wishing I had the chance to tell him.
Ray gave everything to the NFL, to his coaches and to his teammates….. and now I wonder if it was worth it. I have always said that regardless of the injuries I incurred during my playing days, I wouldn’t trade my experience in the NFL for anything, but then something like this happens and it makes you think twice. If you had to do it all over again…..would you?
Over the past year, Ray and I were in constant contact with each other, by phone and through emails. In one of his emails he said “My memory and symptoms seem to be accelerating and I told Mary Ann the other night – Did you ever in your wildest dreams think this is the way I would go out”?
I don’t think Ray wanted to live a life knowing that someday he would not know who his friends and family were. I don’t think he wanted to put his wife in a position of taking care of him for the rest of her life. In the end I think he decided that quality of life was more important to him then quantity of life.
The last time I saw Ray was in November of 2009. We were being honored by the University of Richmond for being selected to the All-Time U of R Football Team. I have attached a short video I took of Ray at the VIP Tailgate party they held for the honorees.
This is how I want to remember him.
Mary Ann Easterling said she would continue to pursue the lawsuit and urge the league to establish a fund for players with traumatic brain injuries.
If we beat the NFL in court and get an award, we should all take a moment to remember how it all got started and honor Ray’s Legacy by calling it the Easterling Fund.
Your alumni brother,