The NFL has tightened its rules against hitting players above the shoulders, in an effort to cut down on the number of concussions suffered by its players. For Ray Easterling and his widow, it's far too little, and far too late.
Easterling took his own life last month, after a long battle with brain disease. Now his widow, Mary Anne, has picked up the legal battle that he faces with the NFL.
The University of Richmond and Collegiate School product played for 7 seasons with the Falcons in the 1970's. In an interview last November, Easterling admitted to suffering about 50 concussions each season that he played. Those concussions added up.
Mary Anne said she first saw Ray change when he reached 40 years old. The previously deep sleeper suffered bouts of insomnia. The neat freak couldn't keep anything organized. A diligent penny pincher started to become impetuous with his money. Her husband had become a different person, and she didn't know why.
Five years ago, it got much worse. Easterling started to lose basic motor functions - he couldn't write, he couldn't tie his shoes. He was suffering more and more from Alzheimer's-type symptoms.
In 2010, Mary Anne read about CTE - Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy - a brain disease that affects people that have had numerous concussions, and now suffer the symptoms that her husband was suffering from. Ray started treatment from Gregory O'Shanick, a former national medical director of the Brain Injury Association of America, who happens to have an office in Richmond.
Even though Ray was going through treatment, his mind continued to deteriorate. Mary Anne says a week before he took his own life, Ray took a normal daytime drive to a location he goes to all the time. Mary Anne received a frantic call at work that Ray was lost. After guiding him to the location, Ray got lost again on the way back home.
After her husband killed himself, Mary Anne decided to keep up the fight that Ray had started against the NFL. He was lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NFL, that says it knowingly knew of the dangers of concussions, but did nothing to help its players.
Since Ray's lawsuit was filed, over 1,300 other former players have brought similar lawsuits against the league. A federal judge has spoken to lawyers of the players, and depositions are being gathered by the players, while they are still alive.
Mary Anne has not been contacted by the NFL since her husband died. She didn't even receive a letter. She's not looking for money - she's looking for a fund to be set up for other families, so that other former players can be diagnosed earlier, and they can be spared the heartache that her family went through.
She says she wants the league to realize that these players are not animals, they're people, with a future ahead of them. Mary Anne's future, involves fighting for those players, and those families.
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