Another former player comes down with ALS, or something just like it

Last week, HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel explored the potential link between head injuries and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.  Bernard Goldberg mentioned that 14 former NFL players have developed the condition more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a fatal illness that ordinarily strike only one in 100,000 members of the population.

It’s unknown whether former NFL fullback Kevin Turner is one of the 14 to whom Goldberg referred, but Turner is the latest former NFL player to be diagnosed with the disease.

Turner spent eight years in the NFL, starting his career as a third-round pick of the Patriots in 1992.  After three years in New England, Turner played five years with the Eagles.  He appeared in 106 career games, starting 66 of them.

But did Turner or former NFL running back Steve Smith or former NFL linebacker Wally Hilgeberg or even Gehrig himself actually have Lou Gehrig’s Disease?  As our brethren at pointed out last week, folks who develop ALS as a result of head injuries may not actually have ALS, but a condition that mimics its debilitating and, eventually, deadly symptoms.

Strangely, the Real Sports item doesn’t mention the possibility that the players actually may have had an acquired condition that operates like ALS.  Though it very well may be a distinction without a difference, the emerging trend is that head injuries not only can create personality changes and long-term cognitive impairments.  They also can kill, in one of the most torturous and cruel ways possible, with the brain retaining its ability to remain aware of the slow but inevitable collapse of the body’s ability to function.

16 responses to “Another former player comes down with ALS, or something just like it

  1. The only reason it would matter is if the treatments (if any) were different. I don’t know enough about it to speak intelligently (believe it or not, I’m not a doctor), but that would be the one and only important differentiator to me, especially if I had one or the other.

  2. Seeing that episode and watching the player (can’t remember his name) who could only communicate by using his eyes on a computer screen, was the saddest thing i’ve ever seen. If I was an NFL player, i’d retire. No amount of money or fame is worth the risk of ending up like that.

  3. There is also some evidence that ALS may be caused by fertilizer, such as that commonly used on football fields where, ya know, football players tend to hang out a bit.
    My grandmother died of ALS in the 80’s. To my knowledge she never played the game. But she did garden a lot.
    And, as you have mentioned, ALS is a crappy way to die. My heart goes out to anyone who has contracted it.

  4. I remember Kevin Turner when he played in Philly. Hard-nosed player. Sad to hear.

  5. When the story came out about Mike Webster I finally began to realize that professional football had slipped into some kind of medical “Twilight Zone”.
    We have all the “tough-guy” fans who want blood each week. We have owners who fundamentally don’t care about safety as long as they make money. We have players willing to sacrifice their bodies for money.
    Back in the old days there were injuries, but those guys wore leather helmets, for goodness sake and few of them were brain-damaged or handicapped for life.
    What’s the difference? It’s size and speed.
    The collisions the modern athlete endures are much worse. Back in the 60’s, a big offensive lineman was 250 pounds. Many were in the 235 range. Many of the backs were under 200 pounds. The NFL should seriously look at a weight limit. I suggest 300 pounds, which is big enough. You could argue that being that heavy is unhealthy in other contexts, as well.
    As yourself this: how many baseball and basketball players end up with head injuries that shorten their lives, or in a wheelchair in their early 60’s.
    Sorry, but it’s time all football fans face the facts: the players are maiming themselves for our entertainment, something that borders on sick.

  6. That Real Sports show also documented multiple head injuries sustained by Lou Gehrig, the man whose name is associated with ALS.. Gehrig was knocked out cold on more than one occassion and amazingly was back in the lineup the next day. The researchers believe that long rest periods after a concussion is vital to minimizing their damage to brain tissue. Gehrig’s consecutive game streak (over 2000) played a major role in him dying before his 40th birthday.
    I highly recommend everyone watch that segement of Real Sports. An eye opener.

  7. There are plenty of people with ALS that have not played football or have not had head trauma. For me, a connection between football and ALS is a jump.

  8. Unless they can protect the players better, I think it is fair to say that football may go the way the boxing. Just another crazy violent gladiator-type sport that only poor people play.

  9. To jmac1013; the point was that the symptoms MIMIC ALS, not that the players actually have ALS.

  10. I donate towards fighting ALS more than any other charity. Not patting myself on the back. I am just saying that ALS is one of the worst diseases out there and I believe we need to find a cure or at least something to ease the pain of the process.

  11. Thanks for banging drum on this issue.
    It’s the best work you can do.
    Big thumbs up!

  12. Amazing that virtually no progress has been made on this terrible disease since it was discovered.
    Happy to see MLB try to raise awareness of it on 4th of July.

  13. Turner is a class act – he admits he’s been far from perfect but isn’t trying to sugar coat his life
    Based on the Boston Globe story about this a few days ago it sounds like Turner is courageously dealing with this much like he did his opponents throughout his career
    His efforts to help others with ALS or ALS type disorders may wind up being his most significant and lasting legacy
    ALS may eventually take his life but it doesn’t sound like Turner’s about to let the disease take away his dignity.

  14. The supposition by the NY Times that those with head trauma may not have ALS is NOT the conclusion of the research study. The folks at should read the journal paper. Any neurologist or researcher will tell you that a diagnosis of ALS in an athlete that suffered head trauma is surely ALS, or in the family of motor neuron disease (which is the more accurate term for ALS). The question is, does head trauma lead to motor neuron disease (MND)? As well, someone above states that exposure to fertilizer may cause ALS. This is somewhat irresponsible to state since there is no data or conclusion that prove that, or even can state that with some level of assurance. Environmental factors may play a roll in the disease, but no one can conclusively say that is true.
    The reason this is all somewhat vague is because of the lack of proper funding of the disease. The true need is in creating therapeutic development for patients so patients don’t get a 3-5 year diagnosis. With effective treatments, people can live longer lives and discoveries can be made about the impact of head trauma on MND, and whether or not specific environmental factors can trigger the disease.

  15. Whether it is ALS or something akin to it(think M. Ali–does he have Parkinson’s or not?) the results are debilitating for the former player.
    My sister died of ALS, she wasn’t a football player, but it is a horrible way to leave the planet.
    If brain injury causes problems later on(when the player is off the NFL health insurance plan) then shame on all of us for drooling for “harder hits”, and other pseudo-tough guy horsepucky.
    Having people maimed for life for our entertainment is borderline sick, to reiterate my point.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.