The headlines hit a little close to home this weekend. I was checking the scores on ESPN.com on Saturday evening when I noticed the headline “Police: Ray Easterling shot himself.” Easterling, who spent several years as a safety for the Atlanta Falcons in the 70’s, had been suffering from CTE, dementia, and other effects from concussions sustained during his football career. Now I wouldn’t consider myself a friend of Ray Easterling, but I did have the chance to interact with him, and I have nothing but positive things to say about the man.
About five years ago, I was enrolled in a weight loss program that Ray helped form. Easterling was in charge of assisting us with the exercise component, and he was an incredible motivator. He was tough. It was awesome learning from a former NFL player and he did a great job in helping me get in gear. Yet despite the mental toughness that he tried to instill in us, he also was kind, generous and understanding. As I try to think back on my last experience with Ray, all I can remember was him kicking my ass in a spinning class. After class, he told me I did a great job and that he thought I would continue to do well taking the classes.
I hadn’t heard much about Ray since then. I knew he was no longer part of the weight loss center, and a few weeks ago, a good friend of mine told me that he was spending some time with Ray. He caught me up on all of the medical issues that Ray had been experiencing, and he also informed me about the lawsuit that Easterling helped spearhead against the NFL. While my friend seemed to exude hope in Ray’s condition, two weeks later, the symptoms had intensified to the point that Ray could no longer deal with them.
As his friends and family celebrate his life and mourn his passing, my thoughts are with them. My thoughts are also all the other football players and athletes that currently suffer from similar issues. I confess that my knowledge on the subject matter is very limited; however I realize that I can let this awful experience change my perspective on sports.
Firstly, I am never going to vocally encourage a team to rush a player back from a concussion. I’m thinking in particular about Brian Roberts. We, as fans, are completely frustrated that we haven’t seen him play for a year. He’s making great money to not be helping the O’s. We hear reports of him making it to the batting cage, but not much more. It seems like the progress reports aren’t showing any progress. And guess what? I am okay with that. I will no longer question any medical decision that is made out of precaution when it comes to a concussion. I would rather not see Roberts play another game then to know that he is could potentially deal with this type of issues.
Secondly, I am going to no longer cheer for hard and reckless hits in the NFL. I want to see the NFL to continue to enforce penalties on players and coaches that play recklessly. I am ashamed to say that I often would be the first to get excited when I would see Ray Lewis layout Hines Ward or anyone else. Now, I don’t want to see that again. Life is too precious to see people suffer because of aggression on the playing field. It’s a great game, but it’s not great when lives are affected.
This is no consolation to the loss that friends and family of Ray Easterling are feeling today and will continue to feel in the future. I’m glad I had the chance to know him for few moments that I did. I hope this tragedy isn’t in vain. There are always risks associated with sports, but I hope less life threatening injuries as a result of them. I hope that we as fans can appreciate games that don’t put players at such high risk.