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Former Alabama Running Back Kevin Turner Has ALS and Why That Matters So Much

Kevin Turner, a fullback at Alabama in the early 1990s, has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - better known as Lou Gherig's disease. Turner had a seven-year career in the NFL  playing for the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles that was ended when doctors diagnosed him with a narrowing of the spinal column. He went through two surgeries to remove parts of his spine before doctors diagnosed him with ALS.

"You get up there in the NFL, you're so dadgum excited, it was a dream come true," he said Thursday night as part of a Prattville YMCA benefit dinner in his honor. "It's some thing you dream of as a kid. The first six years were incredible. Looking back on it, I should've given it up earlier."

The revelation comes the same week that a peer-reviewed study conducted by the Doctors at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Mass., and the Boston University School of Medicine was published arguing that the demise of athletes like Gehrig and soldiers given a diagnosis of ALS might have been catalyzed by injuries only now becoming understood. 

The researchers examined the brains and spinal cords of 12 deceased athletes thought to have died of ALS—all had a history of multiple concussions— and found that the athletes may actually have had chronic traumatic encephalomyopathy, a degenerative brain condition linked to head trauma. Basically, they are saying the deterioration to the central nervous system due to repeated concussion-like trauma may be be similar to the decay in nerve cells caused through genetic defects. 

This news comes on the heels of the revelation that Chris Henry, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who died in a traffic accident last year, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy at the time of his death. That information adds the former West Virginia star to the ranks of more than 50 former athletes whose autopsies have revealed evidence of the condition.

Adam Jacobi over at the SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants posted an excellent piece explaining that the news of Henry's condition is of vast importance to the sport we love. Henry was a relatively young player whose position is perceived as one that puts him in limited position to receive the kind of repeated punishing hits the game is known for.

Jacobi notes that the implications that Henry was suffering such extensive damage has chilling implications for every player who competes for any substantive length of time:

The NFL has been getting more proactive about concussions recently, but this news puts basically every player in the league--punters and kickers can probably sleep well at night--at substantial risk for serious mental health problems down the road, regardless of whether they've ever actually suffered a concussion. That's not to definitively say that every player's brain is self-destructing, but there's really no way to tell if any of them are suffering from those disastrous effects until the symptoms begin. And by then, frankly it's too late.

There isn't really much that can be added to this astute assessment of the issue but Turner's revelation that he is suffering ALS is yet another deeply disturbing piece of evidence about the impact of head trauma on athletes. Jacobi's point is that this mounting evidence will eventually force some action to be taken. And if we don't start discussing it now, someone else is going to resolve it for the sport down the line and almost certainly in a way that will be unpleasant for everyone involved.

HT to JR01