Kevin Turner, N.F.L. Player Who Later Fought the League, Dies at 46


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Kevin Turner, shown with the Eagles in 1999, played in the N.F.L. for eight seasons.

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Ezra O. Shaw/Getty Images

Kevin Turner, one of the lead plaintiffs in a concussion-related lawsuit brought by more than 5,000 former players against the N.F.L., died Thursday after a six-year battle against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S.

He was 46.

Turner, a star running back at Alabama who played for eight years in the N.F.L. for the Eagles and the Patriots, was one of the loudest advocates in the case against the league, which was accused of hiding the dangers of concussions and head hits from players. In 2013, the N.F.L. reached a settlement with the players that was approved by a federal district court judge in 2015.

“It’s about helping people who had their brains affected in a very drastic way, and to make their lives so much more livable, not just them but their families, and to supplement their health care,” Turner told The New York Times in 2014.

After hundreds of cases were consolidated in 2011, Turner, representing the subclass of players who have a diagnosable disease covered in the settlement, lent his name to the case, Kevin Turner and Shawn Wooden v. National Football League and N.F.L. Properties LLC. Wooden, who played eight years for the Dolphins and the Bears, represents the subclass of players who did not have a disease covered in the settlement.

“Myra and I lost a great son today,” Raymond Turner, Kevin’s father, wrote on Facebook. “He was ready to go to Heaven, excited he said, ‘Love y’all and God Bless.’ ”

Turner lived in Birmingham, Ala., about two hours by car from Prattville, Ala., where he grew up. He had three children.

After Turner learned he had A.L.S. in 2010, he created the Kevin Turner Foundation to raise awareness about sports-related brain trauma and support research and treatment initiatives. He also appeared in the film “American Man: The Price of Gridiron Glory,” which chronicled his life.

Turner said he had sustained countless concussions. In 2009, he started having trouble playing the guitar. A few months later, he had vertebrae in his neck fused to repair a football injury, and his ability to control his hands declined to the point where he could no longer write. The next year, doctors said that he had A.L.S.

Turner pushed for former players to approve the settlement with the N.F.L. Some players complained that the N.F.L., which initially agreed to pay $765 million, was not doing enough to help players. The judge in the case agreed, and the N.F.L. then agreed to pay an unlimited amount of damages for players found to have A.L.S., Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The families of players found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can only be diagnosed posthumously, were also eligible to be paid. But some players objected to the restriction that only players who died between 2006 and last April would be paid.

Because of his age at the time of the diagnosis, Turner stood to receive $5 million, money that will now go to his family, once all appeals in the case are exhausted. (The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit heard oral arguments in the appeal in November; judges have yet to rule.)

In an interview with The New York Times in 2014, Turner argued against appealing the settlement because it would delay getting help to players who needed it.

“I can empathize with players” who want a better settlement, Turner said. “But for me and people like me, time is a luxury we don’t have.”

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