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Former Falcons Safety Ray Easterling Diagnosed With Brain Disease

In the wake of his suicide last April, Ray Easterling's family elected to allow medical experts the opportunity to perform a lengthy autopsy on his brain.

A report on those findings, released Friday, concluded with sufficient evidence that the former Falcons safety had post-mortem symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE:

The medical examiner's report found that Easterling's brain had signs ''consistent with the findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy,'' a progressive degenerative disease that can be caused by multiple concussions.

All of this, of course, comes in the midst of a massive, concussion-related lawsuit that's staring the future of the NFL in its face.

The important thing to keep in mind is that these findings are new. Though Easterling suffered from dementia, insomnia and depression after his nine-year NFL career, it is now believed that CTE was the underlying causes for all of those ailments.

In the end, this only strengthens the arguments of the hundreds of plaintiffs that currently claim the NFL did not sufficiently treat player concussions nor do enough to prevent them. Many in the league have been accused of completely ignoring the issue altogether.

But as it stands now, the league has no choice but to continue making significant changes. The well-being and long term health of its players, the heart and soul of the game, are at stake. This is no shallow cry for justice. It has been medically confirmed. That became painfully clear nationwide after the late Junior Seau's suicide in May.

The game has no choice but to keep evolving. Roger Goodell has already adjusted kickoff rules and instituted harsher penalties and fines for roughness and hitting a defenseless player penalties. But how far does the league go?

Could we see kickoffs removed altogether? Will the quarterback become a non-contact player like kickers? The game has seen more dink-and-dunk passing than ever before in recent years. Is that where we are headed?

As a fan, you hate to see that happen. You hate to watch the NFL morph into a two-hand touch league and long for the game to quit changing.

But as a human being, you hate to see players suffer down the road, years after their careers have ended even more. It is quite literally a matter of lives at stake. And if that's what it takes to preserve life, then so be it.

Players will still play, coaches coach, fans argue and weep and cheer. But the NFL is at a crossroads, and depending on how they react to these recent findings and this heap of lawsuits, they could be in incredibly different places down the road.

I hope they make the right call.

For more on the Atlanta Falcons be sure to check out The Falcoholic. For more news and notes from around the NFL head over to SB Nation's NFL page.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.