RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Richmond football legend Ray Easterling's wife says he lived his life just as he played the game he loved.
“He infused heart, courage and athletic ability in a way which no one else could,” says Mary Ann Easterling, his wife of 36 years.
Easterling’s passion took him far, earning him a scholarship to the University of Richmond, an eight-year career with the Atlanta Falcons and many successes in business.
It was his faith, shared with Mary Ann and his daughter, that made him the man he was.
“His spiritual life was very important to him,” says Mary Ann.
Choking back tears, she says Easterling was a gregarious person that reached out to a lot of people.
Last Thursday, Easterling took his own life at just 62, one year after being diagnosed with the early stages of dementia.
However, Mary Ann says her husband’s battle with other neurological problems began eight years after his retirement from the NFL in 1979.
“The insomnia came first and then the depression followed, and that happened around 39 or 40 years of age,” she says.
Last August, Easterling and six other players filed the first lawsuit against the NFL to help players in the league who’ve suffered from concussions or head injuries.
Hundreds of other former players have since joined the class-action lawsuit, claiming they have irreversible neurological damage because of their careers in the NFL.
“It’s really an incredibly punishing game,” says Dr. Jeffry Reilhl, an emergency room physician with Henrico Doctor’s Hospital.
Reilhl says new studies are linking even minor concussions to long-term neurological disorders including depression and anxiety, early dementia and Parkinson’s Disease.
“We’re learning now, what we use to consider minor head injuries are not minor head injuries at all and can have a serious impact and serious long term affects,” says Reilhl.
Mary Ann says her family learned that the difficult way. She’s now on a mission to carry-on her husband’s legacy and help future generations of young players with big dreams.
“Winning at all cost, it’s not going to work,” Mary Ann says. “Especially for young kids.”
While the pain is great, Mary Ann says faith is helping her family through the most difficult moments of their life.
“I know I will see him again one day and that gives me a lot of peace,” she says.