Of all the sadistic instruction defensive coordinator Gregg Williams gave his unit before the New Orleans Saints’ playoff game against San Francisco last season, the above statement targeting members of the 49ers offense resonates with Kyle Turley the most.
That’s because Turley and some of those close to him are affected by cerebral trauma suffered on the football field.
Turley has endured post-football episodes of depression, anxiety, dizziness, nausea and at least one major seizure believed to stem from concussions sustained during his playing career. Those signs indicate the former All-Pro tackle could be afflicted with the early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is the debilitating neurological condition that might have played a role in the suicides of other former players, including Dave Duerson and Andre Waters.
Turley was an outspoken advocate for improved player safety even before his 2007 retirement following nine NFL seasons. He has maintained that stance while establishing himself as a rising country music artist with his Kyle Turley Band.
The release of Williams’ pregame speech last week further cemented Turley’s resolve to use his new platform to show that the league and NFL Players Association sometimes don’t do enough to protect their players.
“This happened two years after the NFL had warned (the Saints) the first time to stop doing this,” Turley told FOXSports.com. “For that to be said (by Williams) with all the information out there on concussions and the damaging effects that stem from it . . . this is life-or-death stuff. It has helped lead to death for many guys and contributed to so many other horrible things in players’ lives after football.
“Where (Williams) goes into the most detail and the change in his voice becomes viciousness is when he talks about concussions. That just blew my mind. Some coaches have never played the game, so they don’t have to experience these things. Their friends don’t have to experience these things. And players, to coaches, are more than expendable. This just proved it.”
Turley is even more outraged by the fact Williams delivered his speech while Steve Gleason was in the room. A former Turley teammate and popular Saints special teams player and safety from 2000-06, Gleason was an invited guest as he battles the neurological affliction known as both ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
In 2010, researchers at Boston University reported to have found a link between repetitive head trauma and ALS-like symptoms. Essentially, Williams was advocating shots to the helmet — specifically mentioning 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams, who had recently suffered two concussions — while Gleason listened from a wheelchair.
The sound was captured by documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, who released the pregame speech last week without Gleason’s consent. Although he’s close with Gleason, Turley supports Pamphilon’s decision.
“People need to hear how far-gone this league has gotten and how far removed we have taken ourselves as a society to care about lives less than we care about winning f—— football games,” Turley said. “It’s unreal to me, man. It’s just a sport.”
Turley also disagrees with the argument that what Williams said shouldn’t be taken literally because it’s part of a rah-rah pep talk.
“It’s exhausting to try and explain why this is wrong to people,” Turley said. “There are mothers I’ve talked to who lost their children because of concussions suffered in youth football. When I listed to the (Williams) audio, all I can picture are these mothers bawling their eyes out and being so irate that these people don’t care about their kids.
“At the end of the day, what happens on the NFL field of today will happen on the peewee field of tomorrow.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is well aware of the on- and off-field impact that head trauma to past and present players at all levels is causing. This is one of the reasons Goodell levied such harsh penalties against Williams and other members of the Saints organization for running a bounty program from 2009-11 that targeted opposing offensive players.
Williams, who left the Saints for the defensive coordinator post in St. Louis after the 49ers loss, was suspended indefinitely. He has decided not to appeal.
Goodell denied the appeals made last week by Saints head coach Sean Payton (one-season suspension), general manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (six games). All three were found culpable for not doing their part in stopping the bounty system and not cooperating with investigating league officials. The Saints also were fined $500,000 and stripped of 2012 and 2013 second-round draft choices.
Shortly after Goodell announced the findings of his investigation last month, Turley performed an acoustic set at a Boca Raton, Fla. fundraiser for the Sports Legacy Institute, a non-profit group focused on concussion prevention and treatment. A slideshow ran in the background showing deceased pro and youth players who had suffered brain trauma.
Sports Legacy Institute co-founder and CEO Chris Nowinski was just as disgusted to hear Williams’ speech as Turley.
“Coaches are not naive to the fact concussions are destroying careers and ending lives,” Nowinski told me and co-host Jim Miller on Sirius XM NFL Radio. “To ask his players to target the head, especially for a guy who’s not going to be out there on the field of battle, is a cowardly act. He gets to go to work every day and not worry about someone trying to end his life, but apparently he’s OK with sending someone else to do the work.”
Nowinski, who played collegiately at Harvard and wrestled professionally, and Turley made it clear that they aren’t anti-football. Turley also expressed his support for Saints fans devastated and shamed by the bounty scandal and punishments given their team.
“I love the Saints as much as anybody,” said Turley, who played five seasons with New Orleans after being a 1998 first-round draft choice. “Talking to people down there, they feel the need to defend New Orleans and the Saints.”
Turley, though, said the fallout from bounties and literal head-hunting transcends one franchise. The NFL is being besieged by lawsuits from hundreds of players who claim they weren’t properly protected from head trauma. There also is the trickle-down effect on a growing number of parents who question whether it’s safe for their children to participate in youth football.
Among steps taken to address the issue, the NFL has strengthened its medical rules about concussion treatment. The league also has advocated state passage of the Lystedt Law calling for improved concussion awareness and guidelines for affected youth to resume playing.
But after hearing one of the league’s most high-profile assistant coaches rant about inflicting head trauma even after those measures, Turley remains convinced the NFL isn’t doing enough.
“This really has nothing to do with the Saints. It has everything to do with every other team in National Football League being able to continue to play,” Turley said. “If we don’t fix this, there won’t be any Saints, Patriots or any team because somebody is going to step in. It’s been done before.
“How are you going to continue to survive as a business when all your money is going out the door paying lawsuits because of negligence?”