John Mackey showing off his Hall of Fame and Super Bowl V rings back in 2007.… (Steve Ruark / Associated…)
As a head-bashing NFL fullback, Kevin Turner was once knocked into such a daze that he wasn't sure whether he was playing a football game or had just crawled out of bed.
"In the Green Bay game, I had been out there and had played a couple series," said Turner, 42, recalling when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles. "Come back and I'm talking to [quarterback] Bobby Hoying on the sidelines. Felt like I had just woke up, and I'm asking him, 'Are we in Green Bay or are we in Philly?' And if you can't tell the difference between the Vet and Lambeau Field, brother, you're in trouble."
Turner spoke haltingly on the conference call, evidence of his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, which he believes is a result of his eight seasons knocking heads in the NFL.
Lawyers representing more than 2,000 former NFL players who have suffered concussion-related ailments say Turner's story is an emblematic indictment of the league. On Thursday, those lawyers filed a master complaint against the NFL in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, streamlining the case by consolidating 85 concussion-related lawsuits.
The complaint, before U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, alleges the NFL "deliberately and fraudulently concealed from its players the link between football-related head impacts and long-term neurological injuries."
The NFL has until June 19 to raise any issues with the complaint, although the judge has not provided a date by which the league must answer the 88-page document. The league has argued the issue does not belong in federal court, and that there are mechanisms for dealing with such issues in the collective bargaining agreement.
Further, the league denies withholding information about the dangers of concussions, noting medical experts are still trying to determine the long-term impact of them.
"The NFL has long made player safety a priority and continues to do so," the NFL said in a written statement. "Any allegation that the NFL sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league's many actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."
According to an NFL spokesman, the league has distributed more than $17 million to 200 former players and their spouses as part of several related benefit programs, among them the "88 Plan," named for Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, who suffered from dementia in the years leading to his death in 2011.
Anthony Tarricone, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the 88 Plan "woefully inadequate."
Turner said that during his playing career he was never made aware of the danger of concussions.
"Of course, everybody that plays football has got to know that there are inherent risks that go along with a collision sport like football," he said. "I certainly was ready for and willing to deal with, make the trade-off for a bad back and bad neck, arthritic knees, for something that I loved to do …
"But not once do I recall being made aware of… 'Guys, make sure you report if you're seeing stars or getting bad headaches or losing your memory after you hit somebody.' Not once in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be dealing with something like ALS."
Also on the conference call was Mary Ann Easterling, whose husband, Ray, a former Atlanta Falcons safety, committed suicide in April after years of becoming increasingly withdrawn and depressed. Lawyers point to repeated head injuries as the cause.
"I firmly believe," she said, "the NFL could have and should have done more to protect Ray."