Fans of Alabama football may know Kevin Turner as a standout defensive player. Lovers of the Philadelphia Eagles or New England Patriots may recall his years of performance in the NFL. But the documentary American Man shows the life Turner lives today as a victim of ALS, a degenerative disease likely brought about by his years in the heavy contact sport.
The film, which we got a screener for, seems an especially powerful inclusion in the Sarasota Film Festival lineup this year thanks to the recent “Bounty” scandal afflicting the New Orleans Saints. Players in American Man only bolster the notion that plenty of players in the NFL are out to intentionally hurt other people on the field. More importantly, it shows the heart-breaking consequences of such action.
That topic will surely come up during a Q&A at the festival. Turner will be at the screening for the film, at 7:30pm on April 19 at the Sarasota Opera House. The festival also just announced that NFL Hall of Famer Harry Carson will be at the event.
This documentary follows the more recent days of Turner, who realized he was losing control of his arms not while playing football but while playing the guitar. At age 41, he was diagnosed with ALS. Through the course of the film, it primarily affected his arms. But medical officials tell him on camera what he has already been told in private. There is no bouncing back from this illness. It only grows.
That isn’t the only challenge Turner has faced. Since the end of his career, he suffered a divorce, bankruptcy and addiction to painkillers. But it becomes clear quickly that his ALS surpasses all of those in severity. Turner, though, also tries to lead the way toward hope from this low point in life.
No one will know if his ALS was truly caused by football until after Turner dies, but it certainly affects everything in his life from his interactions with the NFL to whether he allows his own children to play football. His study of the disease also leads him to meet with other afflicted players, including a vivid visit with former Raiders fullback Steve Smith, now a bed-bound Lou Gehrig’s Disease victim. During Turner’s visit to his hospital bed, Smith, through a text-to-voice computer program, “We can do all things through Jesus Christ.” It is a touching and chilling moment as one debilitated athlete speaks to a younger man following in his footsteps in far too many ways.
Festival goers will surely have a lot to ask of Turner, who at times seems startlingly optimistic. “I have a blessed life,” Turner utters at one point, expressing the sentiment with confidence.