Q & A With Kyle Turley
Offensive linemen are typically anonymous hunks of muscle and pads who only get recognized for a fleeting moment when they commit a penalty. Kyle Turley was not your typical lineman. By appearance alone he stood out from the rest of his uniformed line mates, with his striking tattoos and long blond locks spilling out of his helmet. Then, in 2001, when he ripped an opponent’s helmet clean off and flung it aside like an apple core, he committed a flagrant penalty that lives in infamy. That episode, joined with his aggressive personality and dangerous charisma, made him NFL’s first rock star offensive lineman.
Now that the All-Pro has retired, he is aiming to become a country music star. Turley labels his style of music “power country,” and his lyrics draw on his life, which happens to have been lived on a gridiron. On tour for his album, Anger Management, he and his band perform songs such as “Flying Helmets” and “My Soul Bleeds Black and Gold.” The latter is a tribute to his New Orleans Saints, a team he predicts will beat the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl next year. He ponders playing the Super Bowl halftime show before dismissing the thought by saying, “It’ll never happen: The NFL doesn’t like me.”INKED: We had no idea you played music.
KYLE TURLEY: I started messing around with a guitar when I was around 15, before I played football. I was a southern California kid who always had a guitar in his hand, and then senior year of high school I made the decision to play football and that just took over my life.
Why did you start playing football so late in life?
I guess that is considered pretty late. I always wanted to play football but I knew that practice was going to cut into my summer vacation, and I’d rather be surfing than training and weight lifting. My dad, who played football, convinced me that the last year of high school was my last chance, and when I committed I did so 100 percent. I was a lanky skater kid who started to put on muscle.
Lanky doesn’t normally translate into NFL offensive lineman.
I actually started out as a defensive lineman and they just told me to tackle the guy with the ball, but then when I went to San Diego State I switched to offensive line because one of the greatest offensive linemen to ever play the game, Ed White, was the coach and I figured if I would ever have the chance to play in the NFL it would be through his coaching.
You’ve made mention in the past that offensive linemen are smarter than defensive linemen.
The general population of the offensive line is more intelligent than the defensive line because on offense you have to know what every player does on every play, while there is no intricacy to the defensive line—they just go after the ball. Another coach of mine, Jim Hanifan, referred to defensive linemen as geraniums because they don’t have much to think about. Now, I never claimed brightest—like I said, I was a Valley kid—but I’m not a defensive lineman.
How did a SoCal kid become a country music singer?
I like to call my brand of music “power country.” I’m not trying to plug myself into some kind of mold that has been proven to make money in Nashville. I’m an artist who is trying to express myself, and I draw on my musical influences and life as a football player. I grew up in a scene heavily laden with punk rock. One of my friends was Chad Larson, the bass player of the Aquabats, and we used to go see bands like Tool and Blink-182 before they got big. My old man was a truck driver, and when I rode around in his cab he played old-school country music like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings. And when I started playing sports I found that metal bands like Slayer, Pantera, and Crowbar in the locker room really got me fired up. So when I sat down to write my record, Anger Management, that is what flowed out of me.
Where did the album’s title come from?
It was the result of the notorious incident I was involved with in the NFL. I was on the Saints and we were driving, about to score a touchdown, when Damien Robinson tackled my quarterback, Aaron Brooks. But we were in the heat of battle, and to try and stop Brooks’s forward progress Robinson was pulling him back by his helmet. The play was over but Robinson kept wrenching on his face mask; it looked like Robinson was trying to snap his neck. Then Brooks let out a shrieking scream unlike anything I ever heard. I said to myself, “Fuck this,” and started hitting Robinson’s arm, telling him to let go. He wasn’t letting up so I told him if he wasn’t going to let go, then, “Motherfucker, it is on.” I grabbed his helmet and started pulling on it, and when it popped off I threw it into the air. I was just protecting my quarterback, doing my job as a lineman, but I was fined $25,000 and sent to anger management.
And that didn’t sit well.
The NFL freaked out on me. They felt like they needed to send me to settle down and give me help. It’s funny because the week before we were down against the St. Louis Rams and I went crazy in the locker room at halftime. I was throwing shit and going nuts but that fired us up and we whooped their ass. Then the next week I get into a fight because someone was trying to kill my quarterback and now I got labeled as out of control. I was playing a children’s game and threw a tantrum, what do you expect?
There is a blurry line.
Even they don’t know where it is. The next year, without my permission, the Saints ran a marketing campaign to sell tickets around the incident. They made money off it while I was fined.
Have you ever talked about it with Robinson?
Over the years we’ve run into each other briefly and I continue to remind him that he owes me $25,000 before I shake his fucking hand.
And now perhaps with the album and especially the song “Flying Helmets,” you can recoup the money.
Yes, I hope to make some money. That particular song is about my 10 years in the NFL. The lyrics “If flying helmets ain’t what they want from me, then I’ll just sit here and sing about my football days in Nashville, Tennessee.” Anger Management was the name of the book that I was going to write, but I said to myself, “I’m not going to write a book—I’m going to write a record.” I wanted to put it down on tape so people can hear the passion in my voice when I tell my stories.
And some of the proceeds from Anger Management are going to help other retired ballplayers.
Yes, some of the album sales and merchandise money is going to Gridiron Greats. It’s an organization that does a great deal to mediate between the NFL and guys with disabilities and financial hardships. Many of these are guys who were basically injured on the job—playing football—and have slipped through the cracks. I’ve seen ex-football players only in their 40s needing to use canes to walk from on-field injuries.
And you testified in front of Congress about brain injuries in the sport.
The concussion problem is extremely vicious. We weren’t told much about what a concussion is, so back a few years ago everybody played with minor concussions. You were seeing stars but you thought you were just dinged up. You’d see triple and either aim for the guy in the middle or just stick your hands out. I was talking with [former Broncos great] Bill Romanowski recently, and he said it got to the point where he couldn’t find his way home from the game.
And you’ve had a few episodes from prior head trauma.
I get severe vertigo to extreme headaches to ultrasensitivity to light. I passed out on the floor of a concert venue in Nashville and had to be sent to the hospital. There I was convulsing and throwing up on everyone. After keeping me for three days the doctor concluded that it had to do with the concussions.
Do you think there is a solution to concussions in the NFL?
Nah—you can take as many precautions as you’d want but the brain is a free-floating organ in your body. When your body comes to a halt your brain shoots like a pinball into the skull. Not until someone can figure out how the brain doesn’t have to rely on the laws of motion can they fix it. But until then there are ways to treat concussions properly. Concussions are an accepted risk that every football player will take to go out and play the game because they love the game.
Another one of your passions is tattoos.
I was an art major in college; I draw all of my own pieces and they are all meaningful. I have everything that matters to me, from the area code where I grew up, “909,” to my daughter’s and my wife’s names on me. And I’m working on the piece that will have my son’s name.
When did you get the American flag?
When 9/11 happened I didn’t know what to do. It was a serious time and here I was making millions playing a kid’s game. I told my coach on 9/11 that I was going to quit football and join the Marines but he talked me out of it, so I got this big ol’ American flag tattoo to show my support.
Do you regret any of your ink?
Tattoos are a permanent reminder of what I’ve done in life. Almost like in Memento, with my brain the way it is, it might be the tattoos that keep me from losing my mind.