If you go to YouTube and type in Kyle Turley, you will be flooded with clips of his infamous helmet throw while playing for the New Orleans Saints in 2001. Behind this powerful, ferocious 2-time All-Pro Offensive Tackle lies a battle that many former athletes are now coming forward to share. We had the opportunity to go One-on-One with Kyle to talk about how life after football has changed due to multiple concussions during his career and how he is dealing with the effects of post-concussion syndrome and early-diagnosed CTE.
[Concussion Connection]: When did you first hear the word “concussion” and what were you told about concussions?
[Kyle Turley]: Well, everyone has heard the word concussion. Repercussions of concussions is what people haven’t heard of and the information that was there as far as concerned with football players has been documented to be held from the players intentionally.
In the head injury situation we were not told about the serious nature of these concussions and in certain situations they were termed as otherwise: “stingers” or you just got “dinged”. There was a recognition of concussions, we knew that they were there, but we didn’t know that they knew the serious natures of them and repercussions of returning to play too soon after suffering a concussion and the damage that can be done because of it.
Listen to Kyle describe the first time he was examined by non-NFL doctors.
I didn’t hear about that, as far as about the serious nature of concussion, until I had a serious episode of vertigo and unconsciousness and seizures. I saw doctors that weren’t in the NFL and tried to tracked down what was going on with me. And as they found that I was in perfect health otherwise, the conversation of you did play football, how many concussions did you have, started to be discussed.
I experienced vertigo my entire career. Every team I was on, at some point during the season, I had vertigo issues, if not multiple, and was just placed in a room and go to sleep while the team went out to practice, was told to turn out the lights type of thing. I was put in a room told to turn out the lights and go to sleep type of thing. It was told to me exclusively that it was an inner ear problem which I was tested and I did not have, at all, whatsoever. And then it just became a bunch of, in talking to the doctors, of why I was having these episodes of vertigo, anything but the word concussion was discussed or conceived of as being the cause. Now I know what has caused my symptoms of vertigo to escalate from when they just started as my rookie year to being just a few to, toward the end of my career, I couldn’t even hit myself in the head before I went out to play, which I would do on the sideline, without becoming dizzy.
Then post-career in everyday life it escalated to degrees where I was experiencing vertigo daily and I had to learn how to deal with it. And then that serious episode occurred that put me in the hospital where I got to talk to non-NFL doctors and we started tracking this thing back down to concussions. As far as documentation goes to link all those back, and what we now know to be a concussion and those “dings” and those stingers and the times where your eyes go cross and you can’t uncross them for a whole series of plays but you play through and you see four people in front of you when it’s just one guy. But that’s football and you just keep going, we didn’t know what we were doing to ourselves.
[Concussion Connection]: As athletes ourselves, we understand the athlete mentality to not show weakness, fight through the pain, never quit, etc. Post-career, dealing with daily symptoms, would you say that you are in a more vulnerable state now that you can’t hide what you are going through like you could on the football field?
[Kyle Turley]: We hid what we didn’t know to hide. For me in my career, I had to find out post-career and being there and the age we are now and have this information. But thanks to certain people like Dr. Cantu, Nowinski, and Dr. Omalu and all the individuals who have brought this to the forefront and to the media into the public’s eye, we have the information. Unfortunately, I can’t say one way or the other because I didn’t have the opportunity during my career to know or conceive that this was causing permanent brain damage that is going to lead to a lot of things that I should’ve known about.
Health-wise, mental-wise, that I would have to be dealing with. We were not told that post-game we were going to likely lose it and go crazy. Because, to a man, almost all of my teammates I have reconnected with over this, it is the same story. No matter if you saved all of your money or lost all of your money, or you have your wife and kids or don’t have your wife and kids, you’re divorced, it is non-discriminatory. Everyone has said they felt like they have gone crazy and had to go through this transformation. And, obviously there is the transformation from the football world to the real world, which is quite drastic for some, but for others like myself who have many other things we can go and do, talented in other ways, football was not my life it wasn’t 24/7 for me, you know, eat drink sleep football. And guys like me are still feeling these same things.
You have individuals with unbelievable degrees from college that have no reason not to have a post-career plan and be able to be in the workforce and move on after football. They have masters degrees, guys that are really smart, that graduated in three years in college and went on to get their masters in really good majors, like science and things you really need to be smart in. Same thing for those guys. Unfortunately, it’s something we are all learning to deal with now, after we have learned what has happened. For me, knowing is half the battle.
Obviously, what I had to endure physically that put me on to my doctors, I have medication that I can take. I have a daily medication that is a very high profile benzo drug called Depakote that they prescribe to all types of people with seizure disorders and bipolar issues. I wish I would’ve had this while I was playing. I hope the kids today get this message. Football is not for everybody. I would do it all over again but not in the same way. Having had episodes of concussions, and knowing what it is now, I would hope what is being put in place, what is suppose to be in place now, and in the future will hopefully get better, scenarios where players are not taken advantage of and whether or not they can go based on just asking a question in dealing with a brain injury with a yes or no I can go or not. Because you shouldn’t go and this is why and this is how long, etc. We need to have a treatment for this injury and that’s not taking place. It is still the same today but just paying a little more attention to it. They aren’t doing exactly what they should be doing as far as putting players back on the field timeline-wise. Hopefully players won’t have to make that choice, which they should never have had to make if they responded to the information that they had.
Depakote works for me. I was on Wellbutrin, that made me go crazy, but it works for good friends of mine. Depending on who you are and your chemical makeup we have certain traits and things, inherencies, but at the end of the day we all screwed up our brains. It’s battling on all levels what those things may be for us. Some guys have higher depression rates, other guys have higher anger rates. These medications, because of the lack of information and getting it out there so we can have trials and testing and all these other things in guys like us to understand which drugs are the best for it. Hopefully that happens in the future and we start seeing breakthroughs in science that, I feel is a shame and should be considered criminal in that how far along could we have been now, where could we be today in what we know about concussions and treating brain disease and brain injury in now what we know is not just a football problem, it’s a societal problem.
[Concussion Connection]: Knowing what you know now…if you could talk to younger you, either in college or beforehand, what would you say that you wish you knew before playing in the NFL?
[Kyle Turley]: There are a lot of things that I didn’t need to do. There are a lot of things that still go on today. You watch how many times a guys gets slapped in the head after he made a touchdown as he comes back to the sidelines. As silly as it sounds it’s all important, you have to pay attention because every one of those counts. You’re exacerbating a bad issue, a bad problem.
Growing up as a kid, knowing now, I take my kids to the skate park and I have pads all over me. I have on a helmet and all of that and I am demanding he wear that stuff. When we were kids, nobody demanded we wear anything. It is just about education so going back to play knowing what I know now, I really feel I could’ve, in a lot of those situations where I knew, and the trainers knew… I have 2 documented concussion in the NFL but multiple times where I had blurred visions and all these other things they talk about, seeing spots and stuff, that was a very frequent occurrence.
Eliminating padded practice, I mean we practiced so much during the week. Some coaches, we would practice 2-3 hours in full pads and hitting each other all of the time. They’re needless and senseless things. My power that I had, I was a first round draft pick and in the union, I was other things, being able to go back knowing what I know now, I would’ve injected myself the way I am now into changing the game in the ways it needs to be changed. You can’t change the game as far as concussions go by throwing penalties and fining people for things they can’t control in many situations as you guys very well know. You can go up for a header for a goal and at the last second that person comes in too and you guys are head to head, bam, concussion and neither one of you meant to have it happen. It’s the same in football and knowing these things.
Chris Nowinski from the Sports Legacy Institute summed it up the best I’ve heard it still to this day. It was when he said he went to the WWE and sat down with the staff and they just had a major situation where they just had one of their top guys suffered a severe concussion, stretchered off to the hospital from the ring. Very serious situation where he got hit in the back of the head with a chair, one of their folding chair things that they do. As it was suppose to happen, the guy was suppose to have turned around and the guy was suppose hit him in the guy in the face with the chair but it’s not his face, he’s supposed to put his hands up and the chair hits their… almost like they hit the chair as the chair hits them so it makes a loud noise, like he slaps the chair. It’s all choreographed so that was the excuse was that the guys were in this choreographed move that they had worked on and the guy didn’t turn around and so the other guy followed through with the hit and hit him in the back of the head. Chris Nowinski said, “How about next time if he doesn’t turn around, your wrestlers know to not hit him in the back of the head but hit him in the back or in the butt or something else but the head” and they just sat there dumbfounded like “oh yea!” And he walked out of there just baffled. I think that is the best example I’ve heard to date. It’s common sense stuff.
Again, football, you can’t change those things that are going to happen, it’s a violent sport. You can eliminate the needless ones that don’t need to occur, the excessive training camp practices. We ran more plays in training camp then we run statistically all season long and that is within a three week period of time. Imagine the amount of brain damaged blows that occur in the brief period of time before you go into a full NFL football season. Those types of things.
Youth football especially, below the age of 15 need to be drastically changed and there needs to be a serious discussion at that level because these kids and parents need to know exactly what they are getting their kids into. As it stands, still to this day, my neurologist shakes his head at one of his colleagues, he said he has his kid playing football that has had multiple concussions and has been to the hospital, in and out because of them and continues to allow him to play. These are kids, they have developing bodies and brains, that is the biggest problem with this and why I am very passionate about it.
People ask me what I think and I don’t want to be that ignorant guy, there is too much at risk here and there are too many kids that are statistically dying out there and having serious problems that gets glossed over because of all the commercials and all the money and everything else that goes around with the sport. That is what I think could change, it is what it is, if you play football you are going to get some and it’s going to cause some damage. , but not as much as… I mean my head was a weapon. My helmets, every one of them, are pieces of art where it looks like you took a hammer to it. There are a lot of those marks on there that came from other guys’ teammates’ helmets, too many in practice, too many from getting pumped up, fired up, and other things that are just a part of football and as we educate ourselves more and more.
Listen to Kyle talk about having proper protocol in youth football and the NFL
yes, we can’t take violence out of the sport, we can’t take head injuries out of the sport, you can have proper protocol on the sidelines. But you still to this day, with you football players, and as well in the NFL, you do not have ambulances on site during full padded participation that could very easily at any moment result in a catastrophic injury where time is of the essence to get to the proper neurological specialist in the area. The deaths I have paid attention to in youth football this year, almost everyone of them through the story has an instance of having to call the ambulance, the ambulance came, the ambulance took him to the hospital, the hospital didn’t have the right people there to deal with this injury, they then had to be transferred to another hospital far away and by the time they got there it was too late.
This is when injury stuff to me seems to me, in my mind, things we can change to get a hold of this things and the way we address this. Following CDC guidelines and digging even deeper into those because, obviously those are, we are still operating under the CDC guidelines for concussions in sports that were given to us in the late 1980s, early 1990s.
[Concussion Connection]: What has been the hardest part about dealing with long-term symptoms?
Listen to Kyle talk about the hardest part of living with long-term effects from concussions.
The fear of the future is the hardest part and I think that will be until there is more knowledge. My grandfather passed of ALS and they’re linking ALS to possibly head trauma and the tau proteins seeping into the spinal column. And that could be, because we have an unbelievable rate of ALS in guys who have played pro football and soccer and other sports above national average of just average people of 9-10 times. As it was, it was already said that Lou Gehrig’s disease skips a generation, it is in your genes and my grandpa passed of that, I know it very well. I have two friends right now who are fading away from it and it is horrific. I don’t want that to happen to my family. I don’t think of me, I think of my family, I think of my kids. I also know of the situations of my brothers in the NFL that have passed on due to suicide and going down those roads of insanity and that’s fearful. And the situations of individuals, other NFL brothers, that have these extreme rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia at early ages, it’s tough. I have young kids, so the answer to that is just fear. Fear of what the future holds because of what we did. I would go back and do it again, because life is guaranteed to no one. You could step on the street and get hit by a bus the next day, but if we are smarter than we eliminate those chances and we possibly miss certain opportunities where we could go and maybe stick around for a little be longer. I don’t know if there is a divine plan, I don’t think anyone can say for sure that hasn’t seen God himself or herself, but I am hopeful that I didn’t do that severe amount of damage but the fear is definitely my biggest issue that sinks in every now and then.
[Concussion Connection]: What kind of emotional symptoms have you been dealing with or did you deal with when you were playing?
Listen to Kyle talk about the emotional aspect of living with the effects from concussions.
Plays on your already existing emotions that you have and things you have grown to build within yourself. Being in the Pro Football world is much like the military, very regimented and you don’t take anything from anybody. Very alpha male mentality. It plays on all of those things and creates a lot of distractions from reality in your mind. You create almost a personality in playing the game in and of itself. There are your inherent traits that are going to be there, but everyone gets mad and everybody gets angry and everybody gets depressed about something every now and then and things happen and that’s life. But what you are dealing with is a brain that is damaged with those issues. For me, I deal with anger and depression and I don’t handle it very well when my medication is not working properly. Not taking it right or if something happens or if I eat something wrong that counters it or if I take a vitamin that I shouldn’t have taken it that counters it, it’s a tricky thing. Knowing is half the battle in this thing and I am able to subconsciously keep that in the back of my mind. Every day is getting a lot easier to deal with it which I am very grateful for. Knowing I have that knowledge and that medication allows me to not be another statistic like these other guys that have gone down that road which I was very much going down. In many ways, the depression spirals and things like that, the anger, were really things that were becoming massive issues in my life. I’m really lucky to not be in prison right now.
[Concussion Connection]: The emotional piece often gets overlooked when talking about concussions. Do you think this is something that can be talked about and addressed in the NFL?
[Kyle Turley]: I don’t know. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, that what it’s all about in the NFL. Especially, the reason is because of liability you know that’s why they don’t even want to own it still today. You have NFL owners that deny the existence of CTE so, yea it is hard to say. I would like to think so, but they continue to prove otherwise.
We all have traits and inherencies but we all messed up our brains. Some people have higher anger and higher depression rates. But we need trials in guys like us so we know what treatment is the best for it. We hope to start see breakthroughs in science that I feel they really, it’s a shame, it should be considered criminal with how far we could be along now and in treating brain disease in what we now know is not just a football problem but a societal problem as well.
[Concussion Connection]: Is there any advice you have for someone living with PCS (post-concussion syndrome) or the early stages of CTE?
Listen to Kyle share his advice to others who may be struggling with PCS or early stages of CTE.
I deal with it a lot, and that’s a great question because all my buddies out there know I am passionate about this and vocal and putting my story online. What I can say is what I would say to any of my friends and that is that this is ours, it has happened and we are now a part of the community. You know others are going through it, don’t hesitate or fear to reach out because you will find that more and more people will associate with you and your problems and your issues. It is important that we all talk about these things because, for me it has been a great burden relief. I fought for a long time for retired players and guys I felt didn’t have a voice and in a lot of ways I was keeping me from that fight personally because I didn’t want it to be about me. It wasn’t until my depression, my lows got to the low of calling the suicide hotline that was finally my wake-up call. I can’t express the amount of relief that gave me since and the peace of mind that has given me since making that call. Finally, stepping forward and saying, this is not my enemy, this is my friend. I have to own this. I participated, whatever happened to you happened, this is life. This is your life path. If you believe in religion, this is what God has in store for you. If you don’t, then you need to believe in your energy and you need to believe that life just happens and how fortunate you are even for the things that you have in your life. Prey upon those things before you allow the negative side of it to take a hold of you and drag you down into the abyss. I can only say that to anyone dealing with this outside of kids, adults especially those who have children, no matter the situation how hard it must be, whatever it takes. You must be there for your family. Keeping those things and the knowledge of this injury in the back of your mind can do wonders for and coming out and getting it off your chest and owning it, can allow you – in unbelievable ways – to deal with this even above your medication. Because there are still times where it gets too bad and it’s too much. We don’t know enough because not enough people are coming forward and not enough doctors acknowledging it. The more people talk and the people discuss and get engage in this, the sooner we are going to have solutions to this. Hopefully get to that point where we can hopefully regenerate these brains someday and get it back and find ways to cure this thing like we have with so many other diseases when we put our heads together. People with this are not alone. I think everybody know that now, which is a good thing. That was a big cause of a lot of the problems of the individuals that have passed. It’s still a problem today and people may not hear as much about it or pay attention to pop culture or the news and go about their daily lives. But it’s out there and people need to talk about it, don’t be ashamed of it
[Concussion Connection]: Finally, what do you think about Roger Goodell telling parents that there’s never been a safer time to play football?
[Kyle Turley]: That’s true, there has never been a safer time to play football.
More and more people are aware of concussions and the serious nature of them. They’ll be at least, in the game of football, participating in it, I think has no excuse to not be aware that this is something very serious. But, again, a posture of reactions instead of being proactive in why wouldn’t that statement have something to the effect of, but it’s not anywhere near where we need to be and where we are wanting to go as we learn about this, following that statement.
They are losing, because of their posture and stance on this whole thing, again going back to owners that don’t even believe this still exists, you are dealing with people who still don’t want to even know about it or care. That is what you’re up against.
Again, the statement is true, there isn’t a safer time because people know and at least you know. And what you know is up to you though, I guess, because that message is being slowly leaked, it’s not being emphasized.