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Former Eagle Kevin Turner's battle with ALS documented in 'American Man'

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Former Philadelphia Eagle Kevin Turner went to battle every Sunday for eight seasons during his NFL career.

Now he is battling for his life.

In the summer of 2010, Turner was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) after developing problems properly moving his hands. Turner’s story is the focus of the new documentary ‘American Man,’ which was screened at a private dinner, reception and silent auction at the Ballroom and Theater at Collingswood Friday night. The film, which was produced and directed by Jon Frankel of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” documents the uphill challenges Turner faces since the diagnosis, as well as his efforts in supporting others inflicted with the disease.  Shaun Young with Kevin Turner.

Unfortunately, ALS isn’t the only battle Turner has faced since his retirement in 2000.  We learn that Turner earned $8 million dollars in his career, but was forced to file for bankruptcy and divorce in the same year. Turner has also fought an addiction to painkillers, which he openly addresses when speaking to a group at last year’s Super Bowl in Dallas.

The film also shows (through the actions of Turner) how small tasks that one normally takes for granted are severely limited by ALS. It’s hard for Turner to dress without the assistance of a friend, shaving has become difficult, as well as completing simple hand exercises with his doctor and turning pages of a book while reading to his son’s class at school.

Turner clearly sees the first-hand, advanced stages of the disease when visiting former Raider Steve Smith, who is also fighting ALS and can only speak through an AAC device. The film also shows Turner calling and offers words of encouragement to former Saints safety Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.

Turner is accutely aware of his condition as well as its eventual debilitating side effects, but his sense of humor seems to be getting him through some of these traumatic times. When addressing crowds at a charity event or golf tournament however, Turner’s emotions understandably become too much for him to bear as he discusses his ordeal. His love for his children is evident, and on more than one occasion he expresses concern for the safety of his young son, who is just starting to play football.

Turner believes that the culmination of excessive head trauma during his playing days has contributed to the cause of his prognosis, and he’s agreed to donate his brain and spinal cord for research after his death. Until then however, the link between ALS and Turner’s football injuries is uncertain.

According to a doctor Turner visits in the film, there has been very little progress in treating ALS over the past 40 years. There is no cure for the disease, but despite the rough road ahead, Turner is primarily focusing on making a difference by promoting awareness of the disease through the Kevin Turner Foundation, which supports efforts to study, treat, prevent, and cure ALS.




Several of Turner’s former teammates, including Mike Mamula, Hollis Thomas, Ike Reese, Mike Zordich and Ricky Watters were on hand to offer their support for Turner. Watters played with Turner for three seasons (1995-97), and his admiration for him is clearly evident.

“He’s probably the coolest guy I’ve ever met, one of my best friends, one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever played with,” says Watters, who made the trip from his home in Orlando to for the event.

“He’s just a great person. We’ve never had a spat, never had an argument, never had a disagreement. It’s amazing. We come from two different worlds, but when we were together, I felt like we were one entity when we were playing. He’s an awesome guy and I just love him to death.”

Kevin Turner indeed faces an uphill battle, but his optimism in fighting this disease combined with his determination to spread awareness about ALS supersedes anything that he’s ever done on a football field. It’s impossible not to root for somebody like that, and because of this, Kevin Turner will never have a shortage of people in his corner.

For more information, please visit KevinTurnerFoundation.org

Very special thanks to Daniel Morroni of Morroni Fino Toccare Custom Clothing

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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