I recently traveled to Sarasota, Florida to attend the world premiere screening of “American Man”, a film directed by HBO’s Real Sports contributor Jon Frankel at the Sarasota Film Festival. The film is a documentary of Kevin Turner a former star football player at the University of Alabama and fullback with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. For those who don’t know of Kevin, he is a hardnosed former player who was eventually diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The significance of the film is Kevin gave Jon unlimited access to film him over an extended period of time allowing the viewer an opportunity follow his journey with the disease.
I knew of Kevin’s reputation as a player and had seen him play back in the 90’s but we had never met face to face until the evening of the screening. Upon meeting the 42 year old Turner I could tell immediately that he was every bit a football player. When I say “football player” I mean one of those guys who really loved playing the game! As I watched “American Man” and followed Turner’s journey my heart ached to see the struggles of a player who gave his all on the football field to now having to deal with the symptoms of a fatal disease. Like this and other neurological issues that affect many former players it is widely suspected that Kevin’s disease has been linked to the many concussions he sustained playing football.
During a question and answer session I took part in at the conclusion of the film, I told the audience that I found “American Man” very difficult to watch. But while I say that, “American Man” is the truth for Kevin Turner and others like former Raider fullback Steve Smith another player with ALS. I came away from the screening with a feeling that the film should be required viewing for every football player on every level and for every parent who allows their child to play football. As much as I feel the film should be must viewing I know that there will be some who will refuse to watch and will want blame Frankel, Turner or even Steve Smith for trying to disrupt or change the game of football in some way.
I was actually saddened to watch “American Man” knowing that to see the casualties of the game not only affect the players but the families that never played a down of football.