Former NFL running back Kevin Turner spent the final six years of his life believing he was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Former NFL RB Kevin Turner Died From CTE, Not ALS
In fact, Turner, who died in March at age 46, had really been suffering from a severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated blows to the head and that caused a disease similar to ALS, researchers at Boston University announced Thursday.
“The severity of Mr. Turner’s CTE was extraordinary and unprecedented for an athlete who died in his 40s,” said Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “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 announced this at a press conference attended by Turner’s parents and the families of other ex-NFL players who were diagnosed with CTE following their deaths. She added that former Boston College linebacker Ron Perryman, who died in 2011 at age 42, was also falsely diagnosed with ALS before a postmortem autopsy of his brain confirmed he had developed a motor neuron disease similar to Turner’s due to CTE.
Turner was a star running back at the University of Alabama from 1988 to 1991 before being selected as a third-round draft pick by the New England Patriots. He spent three seasons with the Patriots, and then five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He retired in 1999 and was diagnosed with ALS in 2010.
Turner’s father, Raymond, cited the findings as evidence that the NFL needs to do more to protect its players from brain trauma.
“It’s a big-money thing, I realize that,’’ Raymond Turner said. “But they can make it safer.’’
BU’s CTE Center has diagnosed the disease in 91 deceased football players. According to McKee, 17 of those players who were initially believed to have died of ALS were instead killed by CTE.
In a 2013 interview with CNN affiliate WGCL, Turner explained how he believes playing football played a large role in his AL diagnosis: “I really believe that had I not played all those years, that I wouldn’t have this condition.”
The former running back was a lead plaintiff on the concussion-related lawsuit filed by more than 5,000 former players.
Following his retirement, Turner dedicated his life to research of the health impacts of football and created the Kevin Turner Foundation to raise awareness for ALS.
Professional football players are a whopping four times more likely to have ALS and three times more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases like ALS or Alzheimer’s.
CTE has Alzheimer’s-like symptoms including dementia, memory loss, mood swings, aggression and depression. Scientists are working to find potential biomarkers so the disease can be diagnosed in people while they are still alive.
Some of the most famous names to have suffered from the disease include Hall of Famer and legendary sportscaster Frank Gifford, who died at the age of 84 in summer 2015, as well as San Diego Chargers player and fellow Hall of Famer Junior Seau. Seau was just 43 years old when he took his own life in 2012.
Though the disease is most commonly associated with football players, it has also been diagnosed in hockey players and wrestlers.
6 Oct 1997: Running back Kevin Turner of the Philadelphia Eagles moves the ball during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles won the game, 13-12. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport
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