(CBS News) As the NFL kicks off its 2012 season Wednesday, we also got an important medical study Wednesday on the dangers pro football. This study, published in the medical journal Neurology, looks at what a career of collisions can do to the brain.
As a NFL fullback for eight seasons in the 1990s, Kevin Turner smashed head first into lineman and linebackers -- up to 20 times a game.
"Sometimes you're the windshield and sometimes you're the bug," said Turner. "That's just the nature of that position."
Today, at 43, the father of three lives a very different life. In May 2010 he was diagnosed with the brain disease ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, for which there is no cure.
"Never did I think that my mental or cognitive abilities would be impaired by playing this game," said Turner.
Turner's story and Wednesday's study add to the growing body of evidence linking pro football to long-term brain injuries. The study included more than 3,400 NFL players who played at least five seasons between 1959-1988. In reviewing death certificates, researchers found the players were three times more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and ALS, than the general U.S. population.
Despite its relatively small sample size, Dr. Brian Appleby of the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Brain Health called the study "well done and important."
"What we have to look at now is what about these traumatic brain injuries that spark the fire of neurodegenerative illnesses later on in life," said Appleby.
Last May, all-time great Junior Seau committed suicide at 43. Seau's brain tissue is now being studied at the National Institutes of Health.
In the last two years, more than 3,300 former NFL players have filed concussion-related lawsuits against the league. In response, the league has stepped up efforts to address head injuries. It has strengthened rules to prevent unnecessary hits and increased medical and financial assistance to retired players. And on Wednesday, the league announced an unprecedented $30 million in unrestricted funding for medical research into brain injuries
It's an effort to help keep more men caught up in these crashes from following in the footsteps of Kevin Turner.
In a statement Wednesday, the NFL said "the study underscores the continuing need to invest in research, education and advocacy...we remain committed to do all that we can do to promote player health and safety."
For information on the Kevin Turner Foundation, visit www.kevinfoundation.org