Kevin Turner was perhaps best known for the years he spent in the NFL playing as a running back. However, Turner – who died in March – was also one of the leading figures in the lawsuit filed against the league for not taking steps to protect players or make them aware of the risks of long-term brain injury.
Now, Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University and the Concussion Legacy Foundation has confirmed that Turner has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a neurodegenerative brain disease related to repeated head impacts or concussions.
According to The Boston Herald, Turner’s autopsy showed an “extraordinary and unprecedented” level of CTE in the former athlete’s brain.
Before his death in March at the age of 46, Turner had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. There was some suspicion the former New England Patriot may also have been suffering from the effects of CTE, but the disease is currently only able to be confirmed via an autopsy following a person’s death.
Turner was one of many athletes who have decided to donate their brains for research in CTE following their deaths and was a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NFL related to the league’s management of brain injury.
“We believe the extreme severity of Kevin Turner’s disease is related to his 25-season career, and the fact he began playing tackle football at age five, while his brain was still rapidly developing and more vulnerable,” Dr. Robert Cantu of the Concussion Legacy Foundation said.
McKee, a leading expert in concussions and CTE who has served as the director of the Boston University CTE Center agreed with the assessment:
“The severity of Mr. Turner’s CTE was extraordinary and unprecedented for an athlete who died in his 40s. 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.”
Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News noted that Turner’s family is set to receive approximately $5 million from the concussion lawsuit once the appeal process is finalized. In an interview with Rick Maese of the Washington Post, Turner said he regretted the damage done to his body during his time in the league.
“If you look back to the punishment that we were doing to our own brains, it’s ridiculous and doesn’t make sense for a man to bang in his own head against a wall,” Turner said.
Along with his active position in the lawsuit against the NFL, Turner established the Kevin Turner Foundation to “bring attention to ALS and the need for a cure; to raise awareness about the seriousness of brain trauma in athletes at every level of competition and its connection to motor neuron diseases like ALS; and to financially support efforts to study, treat, prevent and ultimately cure this disease,” as stated on the foundation’s official website.