Easterling died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Richmond, Virginia on Thursday, according to police.
The former Falcon, 62, was found by his wife, Mary Ann, who contacted police at 6:14 a.m. EDT on Thursday. Easterling was dead, with a handgun nearby, when police arrived on the scene, according to Richmond police Captain Yvonne Crowder.
“Based on our investigation, we are ruling it a suicide,” Crowder said.
Easterling was a member of the Falcons’ “Grits Blitz” defense of the 1970s. He started for Atlanta for four years (1974-77) and led the defensive secondary that established a team record for interceptions (26) in 1977. That same season, the Atlanta Falcons set an NFL record for the fewest points allowed in a season (129 points).
Easterling was one of over a thousand players who have sued the league over head injuries sustained while playing the game. In a lawsuit filed last summer, Larry Cohen, Easterling’s lawyer, wrote that the league “continuously and vehemently denied that it knew, should have known or believed that there is any relationship between NFL players suffering concussions while playing . . . and long-term problems such as headaches, dizziness, dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease that many retired players have experienced.”
For approximately 20 years, Easterling had endured bouts of depression and insomnia, symptoms researchers have attributed to repeated head trauma. Easterling was diagnosed with dementia in March 2011.
“He had been feeling more and more pain,” Mary Ann Easterling said. “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.”
- Ray Easterling, First-Named Plaintiff In NFL Concussion Suit Committed Suicide [Ray Easterling] (deadspin.com)
- Ray Easterling: Death of Former Atlanta Falcons DB Ruled a Suicide (bleacherreport.com)
- Former Atlanta Falcons Safety Ray Easterling Commits Suicide (atlanta.sbnation.com)