Kevin Turner was propelled into the spotlight as a football player at Alabama and later he was known for his hard hits in the NFL. But Turner faces a different future after football than he imagined, and he's sharing his journey, with the documentary, American Man: Kevin Turner's Price for Gridiron Glory.
Turner suffered too many concussions to count. He saw stars and was fuzzy in the head, but continued to play football. The game turner loves made his life better, but now it's also changed it.
"There was no other high in the world that could duplicate running out there," Turner said.
He began playing at age 5. Turner was a standout at Alabama and later played fullback with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. There were a lot of hits.
"I was hoping to give more giving than taking, but unfortunately they're about half and half," Turner said.
His helmet shows the damage. His brain feels the repercussions. Turner believes it's the hits taken during football that changed his path and led to his current diagnosis of ALS, an incurable neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and can result in complete paralysis.
"I really believe that had I not played all those years, that I wouldn't have this condition," Turner said.
At the time of his diagnosis, he was coaching his son's football team.
"I was the one telling these parents that it's a safe game to play, 'look at me. I've been playing since I was 5,' and turned out I was wrong," Turner said.
Now he tells parents he wouldn't let his child play at least until he's in ninth-grade.
It's difficult for him to think of his future with his kids.
"You want to nurture them and see them graduate high school and go to college and meet someone, and all that stuff that we think of, and to know that I may not be here to see that," Turner said.
The disease has progressed since Turner's diagnosis three years ago, and has dramatically changed his life.
"There's so many things you can't do, I'll list the things you can. I can still walk around. I can't carry anything. It takes away all of your independence. I can't bathe myself. I can't brush my own teeth. I can't eat. I can drink but I can't bring it to my mouth. I can't dress myself. I can't tie my shoes. If I can't do it with my feet, I can't do it," Turner said.
What he can do is use his diagnosis to inform others.
"I was just so dead wrong about the hits to the head thing. I feel ignorant now," Turner said.
Researchers found professional football players are four times as likely to be diagnosed and die as a result of ALS compared to the general population. And they believe another neurodegenerative disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, could be the primary factor in the ALS diagnosis. At this point, that can only be determined after death.
Turner signed up for the brain registry with the NFL Brain Bank to donate his brain so it can be studied after death. He is part of the lawsuit against the NFL alleging the NFL knew about the dangers associated with football and didn't warn the athletes.
And Turner's journey is part of a documentary, American Man: Kevin Turner's Price for Gridiron Glory. There is a screening on Thursday, May 9 at the Buckhead Theater. The proceeds will go to The Kevin Turner Foundation, which raises money and awareness for ALS. Click here to purchase a ticket.
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