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The Boston Herald

Kevin Turner, like anyone receiving a $5 million windfall, would have been happy to talk about it yesterday. Only one problem: He can't talk well enough anymore to be understood over the phone.

Such are the ravages of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease and more commonly known as a death sentence. In Turner's case, it's all tied together. His days in the NFL as a crushing lead blocker led to so many concussions he can't recall them all. It also led the fullback to be among the most admired players in the league when the topic was stone toughness.

Yet there was a price to pay, as there is for all things. In Turner's case the brain trauma he suffered plying his trade led to being diagnosed with ALS four years ago, and yesterday that won him a hard-earned $5 million settlement he can no longer speak about. So for several hours he exchanged texts from a hotel room in Washington with an old friend about the announcement that the concussion lawsuit between more than 4,500 retired players and the NFL had been settled again. This time, the league agreeing to an uncapped monetary figure for damages without admitting guilt to anything, while the plaintiffs agreed to allow unlimited appeals of individual cases.

Turner was not the biggest name in the lawsuit, but few have suffered more since his career ended in 1999 after eight seasons in the NFL, the first three with the Patriots.

A decade after retiring he began to notice the fingers on his left hand didn't follow orders when strumming a guitar. Other issues followed until he was told he had an incurable disease traced to a career filled with brain trauma that will slowly choke him to death. There is really no other way to put it.

Turner's body has slowly deserted him. He's 50 pounds below his playing weight. His hands no longer work well enough to cut his meat. If he finds himself alone it can take a half hour to put on a pair of jeans. His throat and jaw often cramp and his voice has thickened like cold oatmeal. That is why when he testified yesterday before a Congressional committee he said only a few words, while the rest of what he had to say was read into the record. At 45, life has become a hard road to travel and $5 million can't smooth it out, although the settlement has eased his mind.

'When this whole thing started I thought I'd be long gone before any resolution came to pass,' Turner said by text. 'Last summer I was very surprised to hear that we had reached an agreement. Now it looks like me and others in similar situations will get the help they need now. There is no amount of money that would make up for my current diagnosis but I believe what we have settled upon is fair. It means a whole lot to me that I can put money aside for my children and more importantly pay for the cost of expensive treatment that would possibly allow me to live longer with this disease than the current average lifespan with ALS.'

Turner's daily existence is 24 hours of struggle interspersed with his wry sense of humor. He laughs more than most healthy people and wastes little time on regret, because, well, what would that change?

As he sees it, he had a good ride and then a hard fall. Who doesn't?

'Life is extremely difficult, but it's all in the way you perceive things,' Turner said. 'I'm not trying to sound ultra-brave because I'm not. However, I do know and I'm keenly aware of people truly suffering all over the world. ALS is bad. I mean real bad, but I have been so blessed my entire life that I can't let this get me down. Mostly now I can't do anything by myself. I still live alone officially, but I'm hardly ever alone. Does that make sense? Either my daughter, my parents or my full-time nurse are with me. My parents are truly made of gold. My friends, too. After going through three nurses I found one that is a true gem.

'I lived a fairy-tale life my first 30 years. I lived out my dream. Eight years in the NFL. No regrets. The path I chose made me the man I am today. I'll take that. I choose to look at this as a challenge. This challenge will take all my strength, courage, faith and determination. I can't think of a better lesson to teach children (then) how to face adversity.'

Among those adversities was the inevitable decision nearly every father faces in Alabama. Do his two boys play football? After first being diagnosed he pulled them for a year and deeply researched concussions and children. The decision he came to has left his oldest playing free safety in high school but his youngest still waiting for his chance.

'The younger one I'm not letting play until maybe next year,' Turner said. 'He'll be in junior high. He's not happy with me, but he'll get over it.'

If yesterday's settlement is approved, as expected, by U.S. district court judge Anita Brody, Turner's lawsuit will be over, but his fight is not. Turner will remain a warrior to the end, still opening holes for players coming behind him.

'When players finally get rid of the Stone Age mindset of playing through anything, then my job will be done,' he typed. 'Work hard.

'Be tough mentally as well as physically. But don't be stupid.'

 
June 26, 2014
 
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