Life of a Saint: Kyle Turley
Turley speaks about the triumphs and turmoil of a lifetime of football, contemplating suicide and how cannabis saved his life.
Former New Orleans Saints tackle Kyle Turley had spent a lifetime protecting people. After all, that’s what offensive linemen do. But in a league where players are urged to play through the pain, Turley didn’t have anyone protecting him. As a result, not long after his career ended, Turley would find himself dialing into the NFL’s suicide prevention hotline, poisoned by a toxic combination of head trauma and prescription medication.
Life of a Saint: Kyle Turley
If you wanted to track down Kyle Turley as a youth, you’d have a much better chance finding him at the beach than on a football field. Turley didn’t start playing football until the senior year of high school. Why? The reason certainly wasn’t a lack of passion for the game. “My freshman year, I didn’t make grades. I couldn’t play as a freshman. Then I switched high schools. My parents were going through a divorce. They didn’t give a sh-t. I didn’t give a sh-t. So, I was out of the house, skating and surfing as much as I could”, Turley commented. He added, “I saw all my friends blowing their knees out, breaking their arms. I just thought, ‘Man, I’m not doing that right now.’ It was California and the summer. You gotta give up two or three weeks of your summer for football in high school and I wasn’t about to do that. I was finally getting good at surfing. There was no way.”
But his love of the game could only be suppressed for so long. Turley shared, ‘My senior year, I just decided, ‘I gotta go out, at least once.’ I loved football. I always loved it.” Turley would excel that year at defensive end and earn the attention from several colleges. Turley gives a lot of credit to his rapid development to his high school coach, Dan Gurrola. Despite schools like Iowa State, New Mexico and UNLV all knocking on Turley’s door, the then 6’4”, 230-pounder decided to accept a scholarship from San Diego State University.
Turley Heads to San Diego State
Turley would end up red-shirting as a freshman. Once sophomore year came around, he was faced with a decision. Should he stay on the defensive side of the ball or switch to offensive line? For Turley, the crossroad was both metaphorical and literal He explained, “I just wanted to play football. But Ed white got inserted up there. I don’t know what it was, but I remember leaving the room from that meeting and coach told me, ‘Go wherever you want. We don’t care. We’ll sort it out later in spring ball.’ I remember standing outside. I was the last person to go into a room. I was standing in the middle of the quad area there in the old Aztecs facility. It was dark at night and I was standing there by myself thinking, ‘Aright. Everybody has gone in a room. I don’t know where to go. Do I go here, or do I go there?’ It was literally one of those moments in life where you have a door in front of you and you have to choose to go through it.”
After some contemplation, Turley would choose to go into the offensive linemen’s room. Turley remembered, “They said to me, ‘We were wondering if you were going to make it in here.’” When asked why he chose the offensive line, Turley quickly responded with, ‘Ed White. He was the only reason. That was it.”
Ed White said early on that he saw elite NFL-level talent in Turley. Turley would go on and eventually earn All-American honors at San Diego State, validating the promise that White saw. On the field, things were going very well, and Turley was in the process of fulfilling a childhood dream of playing in the NFL. Off the field, however, the road was a bit bumpier.
“I was getting $720 a month on a scholarship check, trying to pay rent and bills and everything else. I was one of five kids. My dad was a truck driver. I didn’t have nothing. It was hard being a student athlete. It was hard to eat. It was hard to recover. It was hard to play that game, being in training camps and all that while San Diego State administration didn’t give a damn about the program, and still don’t”, Turley offered. He then continued, “I don’t even have a degree from San Diego State because I wanted to be an art major and my scholarship wouldn’t even pay for my art supplies. I was forced to major in political science and took all the classes that everyone else was doing. I got horrible grades. San Diego State sent me a bill my last year. I said, ‘I’m out of here.’ I took all of my classes my senior year, credit or no credit. Of course, I didn’t get credit. They sent me a $22,000 bill my senior year for my scholarship; a school I played for and was a finalist for the Outland Trophy that they never promoted me for. The Lombardi Award, San Diego State never promoted me for. They didn’t do ‘jack-nothing’ to help me. I was Marshall Faulk on the offensive line and nobody knew it.”
Turley Realizes His NFL Dream
Kyle Turley would be the first offensive lineman taken in the 1998 NFL draft, 7th overall to the New Orleans Saints. Turley gives the lion’s share of the credit for this accomplishment to Ed White, stating, “How many schools have two tackles go and get drafted and then make the All-Rookie Team? He was the catalyst and the reason. Ed White and Dan Gurrola instilled these ideals in me that if you get up, show up and go after it, good things are gonna happen.”
Being such a high draft pick translates into pressure for some. But Turley saw it as more of an opportunity than anything else. He had taken a senior’s starting roster spot when he started playing at San Diego State. The goal in the NFL would be no different. And while he got his support from Ed White in college, he would also get help at the pro level in center, Jerry Fontenot. “He was a 10-year guy. I got there and was brand new, fresh and wet behind the ears. He took me under his wing, he and his family. He was out there every day for me. I played with a lot of guys and coming in as a rookie, I can’t imagine going in there with anyone else.”
The Helmet Toss
You can’t glance over the career of Kyle Turley without addressing the ‘Helmet Toss’. After all, it’s the first thing that comes to mind for most NFL fans when you bring up the former All-Pro. That being said, does it bother Turley to be remembered more for that incident than anything else? “Not at all. I was an offensive lineman. We don’t get known for anything but giving up sacks and jumping offsides. It was cool to be known for doing my job, right or wrong. At the end of it, my intent was pure. My job was to protect this guy (Aaron Brooks) and I literally thought Damien Robinson had just broken this guy’s neck because of the scream I heard coming out of his mouth.”
Some Rubbed the Wrong Way
During his eight-year NFL career (four in New Orleans, two in St. Louis and two in Kansas City), Turley achieved high levels of success on the field, being named an All-Pro twice. Despite those nominations, however, Turley was never elected to start a Pro Bowl. Turley suspects that had a lot to do with being, “Conrad Dobler all over again”. “I was a nasty, dirty bastard. They didn’t like that from me”. And while the coaches around the league never denied Turley those talent-based awards, players around the league did. Turley also stated, “The league was full, and still is full, of a bunch of p**sies. The don’t like guys like me.”
The same personality clash may have prevented Turley from eventually becoming a tight end with the Miami Dolphins, this time with the coaches. Coming off a knee injury after his time with the Rams, Turley arrived to camp a little underweight to play tackle. He then tried out as a tight end and performed very well. Turley explained, “I lit it up. I dropped one ball in the entire three-game minicamp of two-a-days. It came down to me going up to Nick Saban’s office, where everybody thought I was getting signed.” Despite outperforming other tight ends in camp, Turley did not get the nod. He continued, “I flew cross-country and gave my time to a rookie minicamp to show them I was ready for that. Then they released me. They put me on the bus after I spoke with Saban. Everybody on the team thought I was getting signed.”
Turley would later sign on as a tight end with the Kansas City Chiefs but was pushed into the void on the offensive line created by the unexpected retirement of Hall of Famer, Willie Roaf.
Team Over Self
In Kansas City, despite being underweight for the position, Turley found himself back at tackle. Bill Kuharich all but begged Turley to do so, and the former Aztec would cave. The physical toll that 2006 season had on Turley was significant. “I went back out there, and I should have been taking 10 snaps a game. I could have prolonged my career as a tight end. I went back out there for 70 snaps a game and beat the piss out of the rest of my body. I walked away gimping and my foot was numb. I tore my ankle up; needed to get that reconstructed. I took 40 bone chips out of my left shoulder.” But week after week, Turley would play through the pain and give the team anything they asked.
Aside from the obvious physical punishment, Turley would also get hit in the wallet. He shared, “I had a two-year contract. I was going to wait that out. My next year I was gonna go get it big because I would have made big money again coming back for my second year of the contract and Carl Peterson decides to cut me. It was a scam. ‘Sign this two-year deal, Kyle. Then we’re going to cut you.’ After it’s over, after the first year, you have to come back with all of your injuries and they give you the league minimum again. Then I was back in the same boat. I had guys coming in and they’re paying them millions of dollars, but I’m starting for them. Those guys didn’t even show up to meetings and practice; Damion McIntosh and Chris Terry.”
After year two in Kansas City, it was more of the same treatment. After a game versus the Chargers, Carl Peterson informed Turley that he would be put on the IR and cut, despite just playing in and finishing his last game. Turley said, “I walked in on a snowy day, down the tunnel at Arrowhead Stadium to the locker room to receive a box from the equipment guy with all my crap in it and saw a new guy sitting at my locker. I was done.”
The Tough Road After the NFL
Mentally, the transition was tough. Turley offered, “. If anyone could imagine committing your life to something and then having it ripped out from under you. What are you going to do? You’re only 35. You know you can still play football but you’re not what they want. You know you can do all kinds of other things. I can go throw luggage over at the airlines at LAX, but what do you do? What do you do with your life? You have to be on a whole new mindset. Football wasn’t just our jobs. It was a dream I had from when I was a kid.”
Turley would find himself diving into another lifelong passion; music. He would tour the country and share the stage with some big-name artists like Hank Williams Jr. Turley used his music as an autobiography of sorts, telling the tales of his playing days and calling out a few unsavory people in the process.
But figuring out what he wanted to do professionally after the NFL was not the toughest obstacle Turley would face. Physically, football had taken its toll. Aside from any joint problems, bone chips or any of the other obvious issues, Turley had suffered continuous brain trauma throughout his career. Battling consistent episodes of vertigo both on and off the field, he eventually realized that the prescribed pain medications weren’t fixing anything.
Turley would eventually find himself on the phone with the NFL’s suicide prevention hotline, a hotline that he himself helped create in the wake of Junior Seau’s suicide. “I called a couple times. I was part of creating that (hotline) in that I was working on a lot of player safety stuff. I just felt like if I was a part of it and then didn’t call, I would be a hypocrite. The person I got to talk to on the other end of the phone on the last call was the one that helped me realize that it’s worth it and there’s a way to go after it and get it back. That’s through what I do now, through this plant (marijuana). When I was on the suicide hotline 10 years ago, I had a person ask me, ‘Well, what are you taking?’ I listed some of the prescriptions I was on and said I was smoking a little marijuana. Regarding the marijuana, the person said, ‘Do that more.’ Literally. That’s what saved my life. I knew there was something great with this plant. I knew that I had something wrong with my brain. I knew these medications weren’t fixing it or doing anything good for me. I had to finally stop. I moved back to California and here we are. I am five-plus years without one vertigo episode. I have resolution to so many issues dealing with pain and injury. And the whole mental side of things, I was able to get my life back.”
Reflecting on New Orleans
Kyle Turley loved the cities he played in during his days in the NFL. Maybe certain personnel or teammates rubbed him the wrong way, but the former NFL tackle appreciates the cites and the fans he played in front during his career. Above all though, New Orleans has a special place in his heart. Turley shared, “The people are the salt of the earth and they proved that to me every day. It’s a rare thing to be able to go somewhere and know that in one of the scariest places in the world, you’re actually safe. New Orleans is not a safe city according to the rest of the world. I can walk through the worst neighborhoods in New Orleans. I just know the people. It was awesome to be a part of that city.”
Turley met his wife Stacy in New Orleans. He once gave up the chance to play in a Pro Bowl because he had already committed to be in a parade in New Orleans. Turley stated that the Big Easy has the best food in the world. Finally, he shared that once his kids are grown, that he and his wife plan to move back to New Orleans.
While the city holds a dear place in his heart, not all his memories of his time here are fond. In fact, he still holds on to some bitter feelings toward some of the Saints ownership and management team. “Mickey Loomis is a bitch. You can print that one as your headline. He still, to this day, is running from me. That clown, and members of the Benson family, are the reason why it took so long to get there (Super Bowl).” Aside from being excluded from any Saints decade team or Hall of Fame, Turley is still unraveled by Tom Benson’s apparent excitement at the idea of moving the Saints to San Antonio post-Katrina. Turley stated it took a $1 million cash payout from every other owner in the NFL to help Paul Tagiabue convince Tom Benson to keep the team in New Orleans. “It’s true. I’ve confirmed that with three different ESPN reporters.” He also spoke of the mishandling of the players, citing himself, Jake Delhomme, La’Roi Glover and Cam Cleeland all could have still been in New Orleans, playing for a title instead of playing each other in the playoffs wearing Rams and Panthers jerseys.
Turley Still Protecting Others
Physical and mental clarity for Kyle Turley came as a direct result of his marijuana usage. He eventually found a strain that best worked for him and he is now enjoying a much more comfortable and functional life. Now that he has fixed himself, the focus has shifted back to others.
The goals for Turley, and his company NeuroXPF, are simple. They aim to change the conversation and stigma of marijuana, educate others on the medicinal benefits of the plant and eventually have its use legalized. Turley would go on to explain some of the ins and outs of the corrupt pharmaceutical system, allowable death rates for prescription medication and how it’s all being driven by corporate greed. He also shared that there is no money in curing people; the trick is to keep them on prescription medication for the rest of their lives.
Turley’s message is being heard. He mentioned that through social media, he personally receives messages from people sharing their successes with the plant and has even some ‘you saved my life’ posts. Turley continues to tour the country and speak to panels, at conventions and anywhere else he can strategically get the message out there. “I want to show people that I’m standing with them. This conversation is bigger. It’s about these dire situations and the cannabinoid system can help every one of these people.”
Whether on the field or off, Kyle Turley continues a lifelong goal of protecting others.