Former NFL player Kyle Turley, a 1998 first-round pick who developed a reputation for erratic and explosive behavior while playing (which prompted
him us to slap him with the nickname “Crazy Joe Davola”), currently is experiencing very real health issues, possibly due to a career of hits to the head.
Turley, according to Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, could be in the process of developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological condition that may have contributed to the deaths of former NFL players Andre Waters and Justin Strzelczyk.
The strangest aspect of the situation is that Turley doesn’t regard himself as someone who had a problem with concussions.
“I never considered myself a guy that had a lot of head injuries,”
Turley told Silver. “But the doctors I’ve seen are very concerned about my
past history, and when I look back on some of what I experienced, it
makes me angry. Guys are going crazy, and my wife and I just had a baby
boy. I don’t want that to happen to me.”
That said, he had one fairly significant concussion in 2003, which resulted in some fairly bizarre activity after the game, even when judged by Turley’s typical helmet-throwing, threatening-to-kill-Mike-Martz standards.
“I went into the shower, and as the story was told to me later, I was
sitting at my locker, butt-naked, when our owner [Georgia Frontiere]
came in to congratulate us,” Turley said. “I don’t remember doing this,
but everybody said I stood up and hugged her, totally naked, right
there in the middle of the room.”
And, contrary to Turley’s belief that he didn’t have many head injuries, his words suggest otherwise. Apart from the concussion that exposed the late Mrs. Frontiere to one of the lesser-known hazards of owning an NFL team, Turley said he experienced “‘dings’ where I’d get cross-eyed and not see straight for a whole
series. … I’d see three guys for every real one, and I’d say,
‘[Expletive] it, I’m gonna hit the guy in the middle.’ That happened to
me maybe two or three times every season.”
Silver’s article looks more broadly at the ongoing problem of players wanting to play despite concussions and doctors not keeping them from playing. But even if the league ultimately revolutionizes the procedure for assessing concussions and clearing players to return to the field, the reality is that plenty of players will still insist on playing.
Most of these men live in the now, and they simply don’t care about the problems that they’ll possibly have more years into the future than they’ve already lived. They also regard the willingness to play hurt as a badge of honor and courage. And they understand that the Wally Pipp principle applies better to football than to the sport in which the term was spawned; football players who are unable to play football eventually lose their jobs in favor of guys who can.
Indeed, if every minor concussion is tracked and measured and monitored, the possibility that the player will be held out of a key game without warning will be a factor in determining whether that player makes the team or the starting lineup — or whether his job goes to a player of perhaps slightly lesser skill but who carries on his shoulder a bell that has not been repeatedly rung.
Bottom line? Like boxing or MMA or hockey or any other contact sport, playing football involves writing a check that the participant’s body might eventually have to cash. As we learn more about the long-term risks associated with those activities, the decision to play will still be, in the end, a matter of personal choice.
Though Turley and others possibly didn’t fully understand the risks, it’s hard to believe that many of them would have opted to leave the NFL, or to never have joined it in the first place.
That’s why talk from Turley of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL seems a little off base. Indeed, I’d be willing to bet an amount equal to Turley’s rookie signing bonus that if he had been fully informed of the long-term risks of playing pro football before he signed that contract, he would responded by saying, “Give me that damn pen before I cram it through your skull.”