Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 4/20/12
Ray Easterling, a member of the Atlanta Falcons' famed "Grits Blitz" defense of the 1970s, committed suicide on Thursday, FOXSports.com has learned. Easterling died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Richmond, Va., according to police. The Falcons also confirmed the death, although the team didn't release any specifics. Easterling, 62, was found by his wife, Mary Ann, who contacted police at 6:14 am on Thursday. Easterling was dead when police arrived with a handgun nearby, Richmond police Captain Yvonne Crowder told FOXSports.com. "Based on our investigation, we are ruling it a suicide," Crowder said. Easterling started for the Falcons for four years (1974-77) and led the defensive secondary that established a team recorded for interceptions (26) in 1977. That same season, the Falcons set an NFL record for the fewest points allowed in a season (129 points). Easterling was one of more than a thousand players that have sued the NFL over head injuries sustained while playing the game. In a lawsuit filed last August, his lawyer, Larry Coben, wrote 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." He had suffered from depression after his playing days were through, one of the symptoms researched have linked to repeated head trauma. Easterling joins a growing number of former NFL players who have killed themselves in recent years, including former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, and former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive linemen Mike Webster and Terry Long. Duerson left a suicide note telling his family to donate his brain to Boston University researchers, who discovered evidence he suffered from the debilitating brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The brains of Webster and Long also showed evidence of CTE.
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