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Easterling had degenerative brain disease

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An autopsy report released this week concluded that former Falcons safety Ray Easterling had a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated concussions.

Easterling died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in April at the age of 62. He played eight seasons for the Falcons from 1972-79 and began showing signs of apparent dementia, depression and insomnia about a decade after he retired.

The autopsy performed by the medical examiner in Richmond, Va., found signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), progressive damage that has been links to repeated blows to the head.

"It verified everything," Easterling's widow, Mary Ann, told The New York Times. "I expected all along that this is what we would find. Ray had suspected that.

"The extent of the damage to his brain made me very sad. It amazed me to think about what he dealt with every day inside his head. It left me a little speechless."

The autopsy ruled out other possible causes of Ray Easterling's struggles with dementia and depression, including Alzheimer's.

"It was consistent with what my expectations were," Dr. Gregory O'Shanick, a neurologist who treated Easterling, told The Times. "Without question, the only time you see this is with multiple concussive injuries."

Evidence of CTE was also discovered in the autopsy of Dave Duerson, a former safety who played 11 NFL seasons and committed suicide last year. Mary Ann Easterling and Duerson's children are among more than 3,000 plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit claiming the NFL failed to properly test and treat players who had suffered head trauma.

"I just want these living players and their families to find some relief and for the N.F.L. to realize their responsibility to the players," Mary Ann Easterling told The Times.

The results of the autopsy came the same week that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell informed current and former players about a new confidential mental hot life, called Life Line, that is free for current and former athletes and family members to utilize.
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