NFL Standout Ray Easterling Had CTE


Last year, Ray Easterling joined a suit with other former NFL players who believed they were suffering from CTE. In April Easterling shot himself. Now an analysis of his brain has shown that he was, indeed, suffering from CTE:

Easterling, who played for the Falcons for eight seasons in the 1970s, began coping with apparent dementia and depression about a decade into his retirement...

Learning the results was bittersweet for his widow, Mary Ann Easterling, who spoke Thursday just hours after the N.F.L. rolled out a confidential mental health hot line developed and operated in part by specialists in suicide prevention. 

She said she drew some relief that her suspicions had been confirmed, having deduced that he had sustained multiple concussions as a player that she maintained were undiagnosed, ignored or too lightly treated by the team. At the same time, the report delivered a chilling awareness of the pain and confusion that he endured. 

"It verified everything," she said by telephone. "I expected all along that this is what we would find. Ray had suspected that."

To put this in perspective Easterling basically began suffering dementia at age 40. As a dude about to turn 37, I find that utterly chilling. 

As for the catalyst to my own departure from the football fandom, Junior Seau, I missed the report that his brain has also been donated for study--but with an important amendment:

"Physicians at NIH's neurological disorders and stroke institute conduct research on traumatic brain injury and have agreed to carry out an analysis of the autopsied tissue," according to the statement. "In order to protect Mr. Seau's children's right to privacy, NIH will not discuss the status of the tissue or any subsequent findings."

Thus it is highly likely, that we will never know whether CTE contributed to Seau's death or not. I think it's worth noting that any finding CTE did, in fact, contribute to Seau's death would be devastating to the NFL community--not Apocalyptic, but devastating. At the same time, I can think of a number reasons why Seau's family members wouldn't want these findings public. We all have a strong desire to protect the memory of our loved ones. 

For my personal stake, it does not matter whether Seau died of CTE, or not. The mere fact that I have to speculate, combined with NFL community's unwillingness to look the beast in the face, is too much. Already I feel the clamps loosening. I read last week that Dez Bryant was in trouble again. But I did not think "Oh man, my team is in trouble." I thought, "I hope that young man gets the help he needs."

It was a relief. Besides, the Cowboys were perpetually in trouble. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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