Saving football from NFL

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick after the hit that gave him a concussion last weekend.
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick after the hit that gave him a concussion last weekend. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 16, 2012

Football has always been a big part of my life. It's a game of toughness and character that teaches important lessons about teamwork and responsibility.

But I believe it's my duty to speak out about what has happened to me and many other football players. As I continue to battle amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, I hope to draw attention to the problem of concussions in professional football. I am just one of many former players who suffer from devastating brain and other neurological injuries - injuries that could have been prevented if the NFL had been honest about the risks.

The NFL can't undo the damage that's been done. But it has a duty to take care of the guys who are hurting, and to ensure that future generations of players don't suffer the way we have.

My love for football started at a young age and continued through my years at the University of Alabama. I went on to play eight seasons with the NFL, five of them with the Eagles. I knew that playing in the NFL came with certain risks, like broken bones, arthritis, or a bad back, and I was prepared to handle such problems after my playing days ended.

But I was not ready to be a 43-year-old with ALS. I never knew that I would struggle to feed myself or open a gallon of milk. I never expected to receive a death sentence for playing the game I loved.

During my time in the NFL, I sustained many concussions. Although team doctors expected me to spend months rehabilitating a knee, there was no time to take care of the most important part of my body: my brain. Doctors and coaches would tell me that I merely had my "bell rung," and they would send me back into the game. Maybe I would wait on the sidelines for the immediate effects to fade, but then I would be put right back on the field to fight for the win.

What the NFL never told me I later learned the hard way: Getting my "bell rung" actually meant suffering a brain injury. The NFL treated concussions like other bumps and bruises, even though it was clear that they are different. Worse, the NFL withheld evidence about the risks of lasting, irreversible brain damage, leading to long-term health problems. I and countless other players may have approached the game very differently if we had been armed with such information.

Researchers at Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy have found that NFL players are eight times more likely to eventually develop ALS. Hundreds of other players are suffering memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, or other neurological illnesses. The NFL had the power to prevent much of this, and it failed in its duty to do so.

That's why I joined a lawsuit against the league and started a foundation dedicated to raising awareness of this issue. The consequences of repeated head impacts - especially in the NFL, which is far more violent than the college or high school game - must be made known so that the sport can be made safer for future generations. Aside from raising my children, this is the most important thing I will do with my life.

I love football, and I hope it continues to thrive. But the NFL cannot go on pretending that this problem isn't real. It must take responsibility for not warning players that the hard hits they were once praised for could ultimately destroy lives.

Kevin Turner was a fullback for the Eagles and the New England Patriots. He is also a plaintiff in concussion litigation against the NFL, and the founder of the Kevin Turner Foundation.

comments powered by Disqus