Tunch Ilkin, a lineman who made his mark for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1980s and early 90s, has died aged 63. Steelers President Art Rooney II released a statement in which he informed the public that the two-time NFL Pro-Bowler who was voted to the Steelers All-Time Team has lost his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Ilkin was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in September 2020. He tried to continue with his Steelers’ broadcasting commitments, something he was really passionate about, but his condition worsened several months ago and forced him to retire in June 2021.
A Respected Figure in the NFL
Tunch Ilkin was born in Istanbul, Turkey, and at the age of two, he and his family emigrated to the United States. The lineman was the first Turkish-born player to play in the NFL.
He joined the Steelers in the early 1980s and went on to play thirteen years for them before moving to Green Bay in 1993, where he spent one year with the Packers.
In addition to being a top professional and a Steelers’ all-time great, Ilkin also had the respect of his fellow players. He was the vice president of the NFL Players Association between 1989 and 1994 and a well-respected figure both on and off the football field.
Ilkin also did a lot of charity work and was a pastor in his non-denominational church for sixteen years. He was also involved with the Light of Life rescue mission and always tried to help others the best he could.
37 Years in Professional Football
After finishing his career, Ilkin went into broadcasting and covered the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the statement announcing his retirement, he said that he had spent 37 years in the NFL. Fourteen of those were as a player and 23 were as a broadcaster and analyst on the Pittsburgh Steelers Football Network.
In that announcement, he also said that he was retiring because he wanted to focus on his treatment and to concentrate his efforts on fighting the disease.
ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) is the same condition that Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, suffered from. It got its name from Lou Gehrig, a baseball player that was first diagnosed with the condition in 1939.
Lou Gehrig’s disease makes people lose control of their muscles and movements and is considered one of the worst progressive and neurodegenerative diseases out there. Currently, there is no cure or effective treatment for ALS.