The Legacy of Ray Easterling

Dear Alumni:

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,

Jeff Nixon


About Jeff Nixon

Jeff was a first team consensus All-American from the University of Richmond in 1978. He is 7th in NCAA history with 23 career interceptions. Played for the Buffalo Bills 1979-1984. Led the team with 6 interceptions in Rookie Year. Holds Bills record for 4 takeaways in a single game - 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Tied Bills record with four consecutive games with an interception. After 5 knee surgeries Jeff retired from pro football in 1985. He worked for 13 years (1988-2000) as the Youth Bureau Director for Buffalo and Erie County. He has worked for the past 11 years as the Youth Employment Director for Buffalo. Plays guitar and was voted best R&B guitar player by Buffalo Nightlife Magazine in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Posted on April 24, 2012, in NFL Alumni News. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. God Bless you Ray and Mary Ann Easterling.
    Thank you both for your courage. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Though it offers no solace, the NFL should be held liable for the deaths of hundreds of it’s employees and the destruction of even more families.

    I plead with all of our NFL brothers to hang in there if things seem insurmountable. The head injury is a tough one to deal with. No blood, no broken bones, no scars (except from my 9 brain surgeries),no limp, thus nothing to even show for all the suffering you’re in. The NFL’s day of reckoning is coming and they know it. Much like Big Tobacco literally killed 1,000s while denying it’s product was not harmful, the NFL is following suit. We need to circle the wagons and pull in our brothers who need help with this.

    1980 Cowboys Cosbie Hit on George Visger which ultimately cost me 9 brain surgeries

    Former NFL player discusses ‘bountygate’ scandal | Video | news10 ……/Former-NFL-player-discusses-bountygate-…
 APRIL 6, 2012 Dale Schornack

    Battle scars |
    7 hours ago … Battle scars … CLIFFORD OTO/The Record … Record Staff Writer … The 53-year- old Stockton native reveled in the glory years at Stagg High …. and has taken his advocacy to the airwaves on the CBS Evening News, CNN and … – – Cached – 12/19/11

    NFL players speak up against brain trauma
    08/19/2011 – George Visger, a member of the 49ers’ 1982 Super Bowl team, once carried a playbook. Now he carries a notebook wherever he goes because he can’t remember the simplest things. He scribbles down every similar results
    By Mark Emmons

    George Visger
    SF 49ers 80 & 81
    Survivor of 9 NFL Caused Emergency VP Shunt Brain Surgeries
    Benefactor of ZERO NFL Benefits

  2. God take care of Ray’s family , I played just one summer with Ray in Atlanta, he was a great person. we all will miss him , Ray may God keep you , and there is no more pain for you.

  3. Very nice tribute Jeff.

  4. Never personally spoke with Ray—my fourth year (1972) with the Bears, I was picked up on waivers by the Falcons…met Van Brocklin (the Head Coach) at his motel room…he asked “How’s the arm”..I said “it’s fine” I had broken my leg IN THE LAST PRESEASON GAME of ’72….Anyway, I flunked the physical and went back to get my final season in Chicago. Ray was the rookie placed on the move list to make room for me for that game with the Redskins (which I didn’t even suit up for). I’m impressed by anyone who makes it through one training camp, let alone as many years as Ray played. Thanks for your story,. Jeff. May Ray’s wife remember all his effort and sacrifice. May God bless us all as we live on…Dave Hale Bears ’69-’73

  5. I had the pleasure of talking with Ray when he directed me through the understanding of the concussion Law Suit. Ray and I talked football and the nitty gritty of it…..he was truly a GAMER and 100% teammate and ballplayer. Life needs men like Ray….but when faced with the thought of being a BURDEN to his family and the realization of how LIFE is deminished….all functions being taken away and only the shell left for his family to take care of….As much as Ray loved life, I don’t believe that he could stand the thought of being here without being here and having the facuty to choose….he checked out …and freed himself and his family from that burden. Regardless what anyone thinks and what religious conotations are of taking one’s own life…………before you pass judgement….leave that to the Maker!
    Rest in Peace Ray

  6. Michael C. McCoy

    My sympathy goes out to his widow. My husband also has dementia and has felt the same way Ray felt. He has had the same thoughts regarding this sport and would he do it again knowing what we know now. This is a terrible illness and understand his need. While his family will certainly miss him, he is home with his Father. God Bless

  7. Liffort Hobley

    My deepest condolences To Mary Ann are the Easterling Family!

    From Liffort Hobley and familty
    Former St Louis Cards, Miami Dolphins

  8. Clarence Jackson

    My condolences go out to the family. Never forget the good time that you shared. God bless.

  9. God Bless Jeff for putting together such a great tribute, God Bless Ray. I hope and pray
    Ray is up there casting a shadow on all of us that are in the same horrible condition! I really hope the NFL does something to help support Ray’s family!

  10. That is truly a deep question for many of us to ponder…was the glory worth the pain? Lord, have mercy on the Easterling family.

  11. Peace to Ray and his family. Ray, Dave Duerson, and so many of our brothers who we’ve recently lost…we miss you. Thank you.

  12. Typically great writing, Jeff. God bless Ray and family. Hope that lawsuit is won.

  13. Great job Jeff. Thinking about Ray’s family.

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