Widow hopes lawsuit prompts better care of NFL players

Posted at 10:02 PM, Jun 07, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-07 23:38:31-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)– A Texas lawyer has filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL saying it ignored and tried to hide the dangers of concussions for decades. 

Fourteen players including lead plantiff hall of fame running back Eric Dickerson, are named in the suit.

The primary plaintiff in an injury and concussion lawsuit against the National Football League was Richmond native and former Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling. 

Easterling took his own life in April after suffering from depression and insomnia for decades. 

His widow says the NFL can make the suffering stop.  “He would say to me that I feel like my brain is falling out of my head,” said his widow Mary Ann Easterling.  “And that was hard to watch.”

Not a day goes by that Easterling doesn’t wonder: what if?  “I didn’t know until December of 2010,” she said.  “That’s how well they hid it.”

Now Easterling is left to carry the torch for her late husband and try to shed light on the pain that football families are forced to cope with, sometimes decades after players hang up their cleats.   “It was like living in a mine field,” Easterling said.  “He was up and down.”

Ray Easterling is one of eight former players in the past three years that have committed suicide.  His death preceded linebacking great Junior Seau’s suicide by two weeks.  Now some 200 NFL players are party to a lawsuit alleging the league deliberately and fraudulently concealed the risk of brain injury while marketing the game and its violent hits.

“His symptoms were real and due to head trauma that went untreated,” his widow says firmly.

The NFL calls the suit groundless and point to numerous and extensive benefits programs for former players.  But Easterling says if you took advantage of such programs, they only covered medical expenses. 

She says Ray became unfit to work because of the severity of his symptoms, and would not have been able to collect disability if he had signed on.  She calls that a double-edged sword, one she hopes no other player has to fall on.    

“My real hope is that the NFL will step up and put their big boy pants on and take care of players having medical issues,” she said sadly.

The NFL has until August to respond.  The lawsuit has been left open for other players to join.