One thousand milligrams of Depakote, split into two daily doses, has become Kyle Turley’s performance enhancing drug of choice. The power-packed pharmaceuticals are engineered to treat seizure disorders, moodiness, vertigo and migraine headaches.
Honestly, this is neither Turley’s medication of choice, nor does it really enhance his performance.
“It’s a pretty heavy dose, just to deal with everyday stuff, and that’s the scary thing about it,” said the former All-Pro NFL offensive lineman who starred with New Orleans, St. Louis and Kansas City from 1998 to 2007 before retiring with serious concussion-related issues.
“But with all that I’m dealing with, there’s that point where things can escalate to levels where you finally have to look at yourself in the mirror and acknowledge the Hulk, you know?”
No, we really don’t. Because we haven’t had our head bashed in hundreds of times as part of our job requirement.
For Turley, making music and touring with his own country band brings him some release and sanity to his post-playing predicament – his next album on his Gridiron Records label coming out this month is called “Skull Shaker.”
That’s an interesting way to keep raising awareness for better NFL accountability in helping those like him who suffer from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, known as CTE, or conditions even worse.
It once brought Turley to that dark place where he sat in a parking lot and contemplated suicide – something that others ex-players in his situation, most notably Junior Seau, went ahead and pulled the trigger, their coping mechanisms all out of whack. What saved Turley was the presence of mind to call an NFL-supported hotline that counseled him on the spot.
Turley’s involvement in a new independent documentary in theaters, “The United States of Football,” also puts him out there to show what kind of life-altering decisions he faces moving forward with a wife and two small children. He feels some relief after the NFL reached a settlement and will agree to pay $765 million toward immediately helping those who are breaking badly.
Turley, who turns 38 later this month, explains more:
A: I know, of course people are concerned. It’s my reality. But knowing what I know now has helped tremendously. And when times get tough, it’s something I can deal with better than in the past now that I know what it is. I had a lot of trial and error trying to function without the medication and unfortunately I can’t. It is what it is. It took its toll and I’m not sure where that leaves me in the future. I’m very leery about that, to say the least. Hopefully it will take a long time before I have anything more happen to me, more than already has. It’s been quite a trial so far and I can’t imagine dealing with some of the situations I’ve seen some of my friends in.
Q: As part of the first group of players to sue the NFL a few years ago, do you have any particular reason to celebrate with the settlement that was announced last week, and people will get what they need – including yourself?
A: I’m glad it’s available to all 18,000 retired players, covering a lot of the guys who weren’t in the original lawsuits. There’s a lot of provision left for the NFL to deal with. I commend the attorneys for getting this all done and taking care of the players who this lawsuit was intended to take care of – those suffering the worst circumstances now with extreme cases of dementia, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease, all the things that football players unfortunately enjoy at a ridiculous rates above the national average, all because of head trauma. But that’s why I got into this fight. I understand I’m kind of a unique case where I had a long career, was a first-round pick, made a lot of money instead of the average player who only gets about 3 ½ years and doesn’t even get vested status. The NFL immediately will have to cough up more than $300 million the next three years and it will be at the control of the courts, not the league or players association to their chagrin. This amazing settlement, in my opinion, will make a lot of guys whole, a lot of families whole again, maybe allow their children to understand their dad wasn’t just this weird guy who went crazy without any reason. The NFL can say they’re not at fault in this, but you don’t throw $765 million at something if you don’t agree you did something wrong in this. I know the NFL. They just don’t do that. This was something we didn’t get in to lose, that’s the way I feel about it. When you’re going against an opponent like the NFL, you don’t just walk away from a billion-dollar settlement, which it will get to once attorney’s fees are accounted for. This will open doors for more programs for players to apply for neuro- cogitative benefits that the NFL tried to give away last year as some kind of hush fund to make the lawsuit go away.
Q: Do you see the NFL as continuing to be reactive instead of proactive?
A: If they’re going to put independent neurologists on the sidelines that aren’t under any pressure from the league or the teams and subject to the Collective Bargaining Agreement with all that we’ve agreed to, giving out the proper information on all injuries, not just concussions, that’s what the players want. What I also want is to see this go down the youth football league levels. We’ve already seen some kids die before the season started, and a highly touted quarterback out of Florida is out after suffering another concussion. This is serious business. I hope the settlement sets a precedent that the NFL wants to be part of the solution and not distance itself, offer full accountability. We have to take care of future generations after seeing what horrific things guys are going through now.
Q: When you first started playing, even rising to fame as an All-American at San Diego State, you must have realized there were risks involved. Now you know there were risks on top of risks. If you had the ability to take what you’ve learned now and go back in time, would you have pursued a pro football career that came with fame and money, or would you have done something else?
A: I knew that I was possibly going to look at a lot of injuries, and the body would feel like it does right now. And I do have a lot of pain issues.
But I had no idea one day I’d wake up after a 10-year career and find myself at 37 with a beautiful wife and two kids sitting in a parking lot with a gun in my car and thinking about killing myself because things were getting so bad. I never heard about this kind of injury, never had the opportunity to heal from this injury. I was at every moment told to get back out there as soon as I can, that I needed to know the difference between being hurt and being injured, understand that I can’t make the club in the (whirlpool) tub. All those kinds of things. I grew up in the game, and I don’t want all that to continue for my son when he decides if he wants to play – and he’ll likely be pressured to follow in dad’s footsteps because he’ll be a beast himself. Under all those same circumstances I’d like him to have a chance, not just heal from a concussion and not have life long lasting effects and worry about other things on setting early in his life that are leading in many cases down a road of demise very swiftly. That makes sense to most people if you think about it in those terms. I don’t think anyone would be any the wiser if this lawsuit had not taken place on concussions today. The NFL went out of their way to deny this at every opportunity they could. The only reason they’ve finally acknowledged it because they finally couldn’t run from it. The evidence was there, and the lawsuits were brought. You got too much power behind those 3 letters, NFL. But too many have agreed to a system that hasn’t honored that brotherhood and fraternity that they so often talk about.
Q: You think about the brain trauma that boxers have gone through, and now there are mixed-martial arts combatants who will likely have some of the same issues that the NFL ex-players are having. Do you think they’re paying attention and could learn lessons from the NFL?
A: Most definitely. I’ve already read some horrific stories of some MMA fighters losing it, and the stories are piling up. They’re tell-tale signs that have gone on in the football family. Dealing with the brain, it’s inevitable. They’re damaging the same areas we did. That’s what scares me the most, how football and the MMA are the two fastest growing sports in the world, and it to the youth levels, players who are way bigger and stronger at those ages because of what we know of training and nutrition, but their skeletal system is at a crucial developmental stage. This transcends the football world. A concussion can happen anywhere, falling on the street. How many hit their head, go to sleep, and don’t wake up? Don’t understand serious nature of the injury goes all the way down.
Q: In the documentary, you talk about being a fan of the game, but not of the business. When you sit back on the first Sunday of the NFL season to watch a game, are you interested, disinterested, too concerned that you can’t enjoy the moment watching every hit taking place and worrying about that player’s future?
A: I’m always interested. Man, I love the game. I don’t want to change the game. The game of football is one of the greatest games in the world. I once wrestled, played baseball, grew up surfing and skate boarding – football is still the thing I miss the most. That’s why I’ve become so vocal about this. If they don’t address this properly, it will be the demise of football. And it’s one thing for an adult (player) to go down – people say stupid things like they are paid million, I’d die for that kind of money. But when kids are going down . . . I’m optimistic about the future. No one wants football to go away. I want players recognized as human beings instead of cattle, and measuring toughness isn’t participating in drills that will only get your hurt and causing damage, and teaching ridiculous techniques that have no place in the game. This is a gentleman’s game as far as I was concerned. I played it tough and nasty because that’s the position I played, etiquette required. I gained a lot of enemies but a lot of respect at the same time. I’d hope a lot of things I’ve done will be understood as me playing the game as I knew it. They can do things still like expand rosters to let players heal up. There’s plenty of talent out there. You have to realize that the only difference sometimes between a Hall of Famer and a guy who played just one down in the NFL is one injury that happened. That doesn’t have to happen. The business has bastardized the sport. I want the game to get back to its purity.
NOTE: Proceeds from “The United States of Football” go toward two groups helping with former players deal with concussion issues — Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, spearheaded by Mike Ditka and for which Turley is on the board of directors, and the Kevin Turner Foundation.