Mary Ann Easterling described two starkly different versions of her late husband Ray. The man she married in 1976 after the two met in college at a Bible study changed in his 40s.
"Ray began to suffer from insomnia and depression," Easterling said of her late husband. "He began to make decisions that were contrary to our marriage's guiding philosophy. Our home life became chaotic. I was at a loss as to reason for these changes. Over the last 20 years, struggles deepened, but new symptoms appeared."
Ray Easterling was diagnosed with dimentia in 2011. In April 2012, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Easterling's wife and thousands of other former players attribute their medical struggles to concussions and head trauma suffered as a result of their playing careers. Mary Ann is a plaintiff, on behalf of her husband, in a lawsuit accusing the NFL of negligence for failing to inform players of the risks and long-term damage associated with these types of injuries or take action to prevent them.
Easterling joined former Patriots and Eagles fullback Kevin Turner on a Thursday morning conference call to discuss the master complaint filed on Thursday morning in a Pennsylvania Federal District Court. The master complaint combines more than 80 individual lawsuits representing more than 2,000 former players. The suit also names helmet maker Riddell as a defendant.
"Let's face it and be honest," Turner said. "I feel like the NFL has over the past decades -- at least until '08 or '09 -- kind of turned a blind eye to the seriousness of not only concussions ... but the cumulative effect of [hits] and how these retired players are having so much difficulty in getting along in their daily lives."
Turner suffers from ALS, which he attributes to the cascading effects of injuries and head trauma. The fullback described the wear and tear on players of 16 regular season games, four preseason games and intense practices. Turner noted his own experience with practices under a pair of well-known coaches.
"Bill Parcells and offensive coordinator Jon Gruden were two very intense people who only knew how to practice one way," Turner said.
Headline names aside, Turner's comments speak to the lawsuit's accusation of the league glorifying the kind of violent, injury-inducing hits for its own gain at the expense of player health.
The NFL denied those accusations and said that it is currently reviewing the master complaint. A statement released by the league in response to Thursday filing read:
"Our legal team will review today's filing that is intended to consolidate plaintiffs' existing claims into one 'master' complaint. The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so. Any allegation that the NFL sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league's many actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."
Plaintiffs are seeking damages for injuries as well as a court-supervised medical monitoring program that would diagnose and provide treatment for players with neurological diseases.
The NFL does currently offer medical benefits to its former players. One of those programs, the 88 Plan, deals specifically with ALS, Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Plaintiffs claim that the program is inadequate.
Turner said that he started receiving disability payments from the league in January 2012. When he applied for the 88 Plan, he claims that he was told any money received from the 88 Plan would be taken from his disability. Attorneys on the case called the plan "woefully inadequate" and said that it does not provide the monitoring needed for these types of long-term health issues.