Kevin Turner was a premier athlete in the National Football League, a fullback who could run, catch and block. At 6' 1" and roughly 230 pounds, he was slightly undersized for his position, but he had tremendous thrust in his legs and used all of it to launch himself into players who were bigger than he was. He played for the New England Patriots from 1992 to 1994, then joined the Philadelphia Eagles, with whom he stayed until his abrupt retirement in 1999. Some called him “the Collision Expert”—a nickname he got because of the gouges he collected on his helmet.
Now Turner can’t button his shirt. When we met recently at a California Pizza Kitchen in Birmingham, Ala., the first sign of physical impairment came when he put his small backpack into the booth where he would be sitting. His arm was Frankenstein-straight, and his shoulder was stiff as he swung the pack away from his body. Other issues soon became apparent. His fingers were curled up and his thumbs almost useless, so he drank from a glass by holding it in his palms. After he had trouble removing the little paper ring from his napkin, he took a furtive glance at the nearby tables before ducking his head down to rip it off with his teeth.