Kevin Turner, who died from complications from ALS in March, played five seasons with Eagles.
BOSTON – Kevin Turner long believed that football was linked to the neurodegenerative disease that led to his death earlier this year. Boston University brain researchers confirmed the NFL player’s suspicions Thursday – and said he had an advanced case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the league’s brain destroying industrial disease.
Turner died in March at the age of 46 from complications of amyothropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. After his diagnosis, the former Patriots and Eagles fullback started the Kevin Turner Foundation to raise money for ALS research. He was a lead plaintiff in the massive class-action concussion lawsuit filed against the NFL and also donated his brain and spine to Boston University researchers.
“The severity of Mr. Turner’s CTE was extraordinary and unprecedented for an athlete who died in his 40s,” said Ann McKee, the director of Boston University’s CTE Center. “While he had typical cognitive symptoms and problems with impulse control associated with CTE, it also appears that CTE decimated the motor cortex of his brain at a young age, likely leading to his ALS symptoms.
McKee and her Boston University and Veterans Administration colleagues established a link between CTE and ALS in 2010.
Kevin Turner’s brain scans showing his advanced CTE.
Turner had Stage IV CTE, the disease’s most advanced stage. BU researchers said the length of Turner’s career contributed to the severity of the disease.
“We believed the extreme severity of Kevin Turner’s disease is related to his 25-season career and the fact that he began playing tackle football at age 5, while his brain was still rapidly developing and more vulnerable,” Boston University professor Robert Cantu said.
Turner was a star at the University of Alabama and was drafted in the third round of the 1992 draft by New England. He played for three seasons in New England and spent the remainder of his eight-year NFL career with the Eagles.
Turner, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2010 after he lost control of his fingers and the ability to play the guitar, said he would not have played if he had known the risks.
“If they would have come to me and said ‘I’ve seen the future. This is what happens,’ of course, I would stop playing immediately,” Turner once said, according to ESPN. “But as we all know, nobody can see the future. For me, it just falls into a long line of bad decisions.”
After years of denials, NFL executive Jeff Miller acknowledged during a congressional hearing in March that there was a link between football and CTE. The brain-eating disease, characterized by a build-up of a protein called tau in the brain, has only been found in boxers, football players and others who have sustained repeated blows to the head. Still, some NFL insiders have resisted links between football and CTE.
“That’s absurd,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said earlier this year when asked about Miller’s testimony.
The NFL agreed to pay $1 billion to 5,000 former players to settle the class-action lawsuit, which was approved by a judge in April 2015. The NFL tried to get insurance companies to cover the claims, but those companies sued the league and sought documents that show what the league knew about the long-term risks of head injuries when it bought its policies. A New York judge ordered the league to share those documents with the insurance companies earlier this week.
Turner’s family will receive about $5 million as a result of the class-action lawsuit once its appeals are exhausted. He told The New York Times in 2014 that he empathized with players who said the settlement was inadequate. Holding out for a better deal would delay getting help to players who need it, he said.
“For me and people like me, time is a luxury we don’t have,” he said.