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HomeNewsboxSports of The Times: Kevin Turner’s Parents Still Watch Football. But Differently.

Sports of The Times: Kevin Turner’s Parents Still Watch Football. But Differently.

The Turners remember their son, who once weighed 235 pounds, dwindling to 100. At first, he lost strength in his left hand. And his left arm. Then his right arm and hand. Then his neck. His mother had to learn how to thicken water so he wouldn’t choke while drinking it, and how to clean his breathing and feeding tubes.

By the end, Kevin couldn’t eat, drink, swallow or talk, as he fought for each breath.

“It’s all been really hard,” Myra said, as she started to cry. “It’s worse than you can imagine, having to be a nurse to your son and then losing your only son.”

With the family’s cooperation, HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” has chronicled the six years of Kevin’s decline for a segment that will be televised on Tuesday. His parents think it is important to tell their story, to raise awareness about C.T.E. They take no offense at questions about why they haven’t turned their backs on football.

They still watch. They just watch differently.

They pay a lot more attention to college games than to the N.F.L., and they are always interested in seeing how officials treat a player who might have a concussion.

They have tuned into the N.F.L. playoffs, and they plan to watch the Super Bowl. Neither is ignoring the risk of C.T.E., but Raymond said, “It’s probably too late for those guys in the N.F.L.”

As Myra Turner watched the Dallas Cowboys play the Packers last weekend, she saw a TV camera stop on the former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, who was celebrating and grabbing his seatmate, Tony Dorsett, another Cowboys alumnus.

Dorsett, who has said he has memory loss and other signs of C.T.E., didn’t look right.

“He didn’t even crack a smile,” Myra said. “He was just sitting there and I thought, ‘Wow, how can he sit there with no emotion at all?’ Then I realized, oh, yeah, I do know why.’”

The Turners grew up in this state, where football is king, a rite passed from fathers to sons. Raymond played, then coached Kevin.

“I’m a guy, so I love football — the hitting, the running, the scoring, the girls,” Raymond said, before Myra cut him off.

“And I was a cheerleader!” she said. “I was the only girl you’re talking about, right?”

By their smiles and giggles, you could tell football once brought them unquestionable joy, long before anyone had heard of C.T.E. — or even took concussions seriously.

Photo

Kevin Turner in 2014. He received a diagnosis of A.L.S. in 2010 and died last March at the age of 46.

Credit
Josh Ritchie for The New York Times

Today, their granddaughter, Natalie, 16, is a cheerleader dating a football player, just as her grandmother did. Myra won’t watch her grandsons play. Raymond watches every game. Nolan was a redshirt freshman at Clemson last season. Cole plays in middle school.

“Their dad told them to think long and hard before playing football because of what it could possibly do to their brains,” Raymond said. “But the boys wanted to play. The game is much safer. What can you do? We make sure they are extra careful.”

He said: “If the boys said they didn’t want to play football anymore, I’d be pretty happy about that. But Nolan is 19 and can make his own decisions now. I can’t convince him of anything.”

As the couple talked about their bittersweet relationship with football, Raymond twisted a napkin so many times and so tightly that it became a hard, tiny paper sculpture. Myra’s eyes filled with tears. “I can’t believe my son is gone,” she said.

Kevin was buried last Easter in Prattville, Ala., about four miles from his high school football field, which is now named after him. On Thursday, his grave was marked with a small white metal cross and a vase of white artificial flowers, which had fallen onto its side. The squares of sod atop his plot had yet to grow together.

His bronze grave marker — which will be finished any day now — will have his name, Paul Kevin Turner, and two etchings of him in a football uniform — one from his days at Alabama, the other from when he was with the Eagles. Between his dates of birth and death, there will be a raised image of a golden football.

“I didn’t think twice about putting football on there,” Myra said. “Because that was his life, our life.”

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