cannabis

86 : Policing The NHL Ice w/ Riley Cote

Riley Cote is a former professional ice hockey left winger who played eight seasons in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers.  During his career, he was known as an enforcer on the ice.  Riley announced his retirement from professional hockey at the age of 28.  Most recently, he was an assistant coach with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League (AHL) for the past 7 seasons.  Riley is currently focusing on his Hemp Heals Foundation, which promotes sustainable agriculture, sustainable health and clean natural medicine, while focusing on a holistic approach to optimum health through the use of hemp.

I immediately felt a connection to Riley because both of us embraced the identity of being a “tough guy” in our respective sports.  Neither of us would think twice before throwing our bodies around to make a big hit, or in Riley’s case starting a fight. Going into this conversation with Riley, I strongly disagreed with fighting in hockey. In my mind, putting a ban on fighting would be an easy way to avoid dangerous and unnecessary hits to the head, without actually altering the essence of the game. However, by the end of our conversation I formed a much different opinion on the role that fighting plays in hockey.

“If you can instill fear into your opponent, and then someone feels dominated by you mentally, you own them.”

So what makes someone an “enforcer” in the NHL? An enforcer in the NHL needs to be fearless, have the ability to sacrifice their bodies and the willingness to fight anyone, no matter what the size. The role of the enforcer is to create energy in the arena, but more importantly to keep the peace out on the ice and keep everyone in check.  Riley says guys like him are few and far between in today’s NHL because the direction of the game is trending towards speed and quickness.  In Riley’s opinion, the lack of policemen out on the ice has actually led to more dangerous hits. A mutual respect exists between NHL “tough guys”, their teams and their opponents, even after getting their ass kicked.  “You can put guys in the penalty box all day long, but you haven’t really addressed the problem.” Rule changes in the NHL have also discouraged players to fight.  Riley explained how it used to be that you could fight anyone on the other team and you would both get 5 minutes for fighting, so there was no power play.  After the introduction of the instigator rule, the fight instigator gets 2 minutes for initiating the fight, 5 minutes for fighting and 10 minutes for misconduct. This puts the instigator out of the game for 17 minutes and their team down a man for 2 minutes.  The structure of this rule incentivizes players to turtle.  This comes into play when an enforcer retaliates for a cheap hit that was dished out by the opponent.  In that case the enforcer might be putting his team in a vulnerable position to serve their role as the policeman. 

“To me, a fight was like a goal”

Riley wasn’t always an enforcer out on the ice. He chose to start playing more aggressively while in juniors due to the fact that he was highly observant and aware of the guys who were getting the call up to the NHL. To make into the NHL, Riley knew he had to be aggressive and had to keep fighting in juniors. When talking about his NHL dreams while growing up, Riley said, “If I wouldn’t have done that [played as an enforcer], I would have maybe been a 3rd line American League Hockey Player.”  He achieved his goal of reaching the NHL, because he embraced the enforcer identity out on the ice.  According to Riley, he was top 3 in fighting in whatever league he was in.  A shift without a fight or a hit was an unproductive shift. Fighting not only caused a lot of wear and tear physically for Riley, but also mentally.  He felt like he was in a constant state of fight or flight.  Every game he had to be mentally prepared to fight someone, which caused a lot of stress and pressure on him, even when there wasn’t a fight. 

Riley has been a cannabis user since he was 15 years old and although he wasn’t always aware of the science based evidence of its benefits; he recognized the relief it gave to his anxiety.  Riley partially credits cannabinoids and cannabidiol (CBD) for his improved health after his playing days.  He also credits his current brain health to the use of cannabis throughout his career.  This experience has fueled the passion behind Riley’s organization called Hemp Heals.  Riley never expected to retire at 28, but he felt that he was always nursing something during every practice.  Looking back, Riley feels that his heavy lifting caused a lot of problems to his physical body.  He recommends that current athletes focus more on bodyweight, plyometric, speed & agility workouts, yoga and healthier eating. Riley noticed a huge difference after transitioning his active lifestyle to this format during his retirement.

In this episode Riley also talks about the huge change in identity he had after his retirement.  Removing the toxic and introducing the healing into his life aided in this transition.  This includes not only people, but food as well.  Riley endorses hemp seeds as a great source of protein.  Athletes need to think of their body as their moneymaker.  Just like how you wouldn’t put regular fuel in a sports car, you shouldn’t put low-grade fuel in your body because eventually, it will break down like a car.  Fortunately, athletes have many more resources today to optimize their health, such as sports performance coaches, wellness coaches, sleep doctors and sports psychologists. However, as a coach, Riley finds that most of the young guys still think they are invincible and don’t take advantage of these resources.  Going back to the car example, you can’t maximize your car’s longevity by only taking it to the mechanic when it is broken.  You need to take the car for its regularly scheduled maintenance to prevent problems down the road (no pun intended… see what I did there?).

During our conversation, I was very curious to learn about what preparation went into a fight, how a fight is started, and how a winner of a fight is determined.  Riley explains these dynamics in detail during the interview.  Although Riley said he wasn’t a technical fighter, he still trained Brazilian Ju Jitsu and Standup Greco-Roman wrestling techniques.  The fights themselves could happen as simply as just asking an opposing player to fight.  It’s not always that easy, though. If the other player refused, Riley would sometimes have to force the fight.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how the fight starts because there will always be the adrenaline factor and an energized atmosphere in the arena.  When it comes to determining a winner there is often a big difference between the crowd and the players take on the outcome. No matter the outcome, no one wants to see each other badly injured.  According to Riley, inflicting injury is not the objective of a hockey fight.  Riley stated that he never wanted to put someone out of a game or even a practice because of a fight but injuries, and sometimes-serious ones do occur.

Some of Riley’s Injuries throughout his career, where he averaged one surgery a year, included:

  • Two knee injuries

  • Two separated shoulders

  • Torn wrist and Finger Tendon

  • Two eye surgeries (I later ask about the stigma associated with eye shields in the NHL)

  • Two nose surgeries

  • Broken foot

Riley described himself as a fringe-roster player, which pressured him to play through many of these injuries because he knew he couldn’t give up his spot.

The one possible regret that Riley has from his hockey career is that he wished he did a little more hockey playing and a little less fighting.  His advice to upcoming NHL “tough guys” is to work on your hockey skills because there is not much room for players like him anymore.  Although it is easy to demonize fighting as it’s seen as “barbaric” when looking at it politically, Riley believes something has to slow the game down to make the game safer. That something used to be fighting.  Fighting in hockey might not be as detrimental to player safety as we might think.  In this quest to improve health & safety in sports, I think it is important to think about ideas such as this to truly make the lasting impact we have set out to accomplish.

GREAT MUSIC • VENDORS • SPEAKERS • INDUSTRIAL HEMP EDUCATION • RAFFLE ITEMS • FOOD • DRINKS AND MUCH MORE

GREAT MUSIC • VENDORS • SPEAKERS • INDUSTRIAL HEMP EDUCATION • RAFFLE ITEMS • FOOD • DRINKS AND MUCH MORE

WHERE CAN YOU support the HEMP HEALS FOUNDATION?

WEBSITE | music festival ticketsFACEBOOK | Twitter

WHERE CAN YOU FOLLOW Riley cote?

INSTAGRAM | facebookTWITTER | LINKEDIN

Download Episode 86 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

80 : Fly'n Helmets, Retired All-Pro Offensive Lineman, Kyle Turley

Kyle Turley is a former All-Pro NFL Offensive lineman who played eight seasons in the NFL. Kyle was Selected 7th overall by the New Orleans Saints in the 1998 NFL draft out of San Diego State.  He played five seasons for the New Orleans Saints and a year with the St. Louis Rams before a serious back injury sidelined him for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. He returned to football in 2006 as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, where he spent the last two years of his career before announcing his retirement in December 2007. Since retiring, Kyle has focused his efforts in advocating for retired NFL players and is also an advocate for cannabis. Due to his strong belief in the medical benefits of cannabis, Kyle launched a CBD supplement company called Neuro Armor. Most recently he started coaching football at Riverside City College (Listen all the way through this episode to hear about the interesting and concerning athletic trainer situation at this school).

Kyle Grew up in the rural towns of Utah.  His father, John Turley played quarterback at BYU, so football was in his blood. Kyle describes his father as an American Cowboy who drove trucks while Kyle was growing up, and eventually became a farmer. In Utah, there weren't enough kids around to field football teams, but even after his family moved to southern California when he was 10, they didn't have the money to let him play. Despite this, he remembers playing football in the parks and in gym class, and frequently had coaches telling him that he could play in the NFL one day.

In high school Kyle struggled in school and that prevented him from playing football.  He was very into skateboarding and surfing at this time and excelled in both wrestling and baseball (Kyle described baseball as a "hang-out sport." This part of the interview made me laugh).  When Kyle got to his senior year his Dad mentioned that this would be his last chance to give football a try.  In addition to not having the grades to play before his senior season, Kyle was also slightly afraid of getting injured, especially being a self-described "skinny surfer skater kid" at the time. 

Kyle obviously had a very successful senior year on the defensive line, which ultimately led to him receiving a scholarship to San Diego State University.  He credits his success to the skills and confidence wrestling gave him. Kyle's wrestling coach was also the d-line coach and told him told him to go get the ball and make sure your jersey shows up on film around the ball every play and he would get a scholarship.  This reminded me my interview with David Milewski in Episode 72, because its amazing what you can do as an athlete when you keep things simple and bust your ass.

“There is no way to change the game, it is going to happen” 

To this day the intangibles that Kyle looks for in his players at Riverside City College are positive attitudes and a willingness to learn.  Side note: I asked Kyle if he coaches football differently due to what his body has gone through and said “There is no way to change the game, it is going to happen."  That being the case, he said if he could go back, he would cut out some of the unnecessary "extracurricular" hitting he did.  Kyle embodied this mindset in his playing days and it served him well when he ended up redshirting in his freshman season at San Diego State.  Kyle was brought in as a DE/OLB and was frequently helping out the team by running scout team.  Fortunately or unfortunately for Kyle, he really excelled on the scout team offensive line. After his freshman year, a new coaching regime was brought in and during our conversation, Kyle takes us through the moment that he officially moved to the offensive line.  The new o-line coach who played 17 years in the NFL was introduced at a team meeting and Kyle felt an immediate connection. 

Photo : Passthemike.com

Photo : Passthemike.com

While in college, Kyle dislocated his knee cap during a spring practice after getting his leg rolled onto by another player.  We talked about the mental and emotional toll this type of injury had on him, but also how he was determined to prove everyone wrong and the injury wrong.  Kyle played his senior season despite having teams think of him as a first round draft pick as a junior.  We then talked about the insurance policy top draft prospects can take out in case of future injury. After getting drafted 7th overall by the New Orleans Saints in the 1998 NFL draft, Kyle was lucky enough to remain injury free for his first 6 years in the league.  Kyle credits this health to pure luck. This streak ended when he signed with the St. Louis Rams and these injuries changed his life, not just his football career.  Specifically Kyle suffered a severe concussion, which left him unconscious and disoriented.  In this episode, Kyle takes us through the protocol, or lack thereof at that time in the NFL.  Without going into the whole story, Kyle's wife had to flag down an officer at the stadium to bring him to the hospital.  The two of them got in the back of the police car, and doctors were astonished by a blurred mass that was presented on his scan. The next day they said he was free to participate in practice and he played the next week.  

"Your life is being active as an athlete, when you take that away from someone and to have pain and injuries on top of that, it's tough."

This is the point where Kyle's physical and mental health began to change for the worse.  We eventually discuss what Kyle's transition to life after football was like after a nagging back injury and an ankle injury.  In addition Kyle constantly suffered from vertigo and migraines. Pills were always the go-to remedies for these ailments and Kyle largely believes they are what led to his mental health struggles, which included suicidal thoughts.  The one thing Kyle would do differently if he could go back, would be to not take all the pills because they turned him into someone that he wasn't and left him feeling like he didn't have any control.   Kyle felt like a junkie by being on all of the pills, so he began to educate himself on medical marijuana.  Although he was afraid to use marijuana while playing football, today he credits cannabis for saving his life because it helped him get off his previous prescriptions.  He feels so passionately about the benefits cannabis has to offer to the world he launched the CBD supplement company, Neuro Amour (Cognitive Therapy Evolved, CTE). Kyle was nice enough to give me a sample of the Neuro Armour Extract and I can definitely attest to sleeping more soundly throughout the night.

Music has always been a part of Kyle's life. Every team he was on he would rent music equipment and he would play with his teammates during training camp.  He describes playing music as an escape from the daily grind.  Kyle recommends all athletes find a healthy escape from their sport from time to time.  When in college, he also found his escape in surfing.  Kyle dove deeper into the music world after his career, and we analyze some of the lyrics in his song "Fly'n Helmets" (Listen to his live recording below). Specifically we talk about the dynamics of the NFL and the NFL Players Association and how they treat retired players.  Kyle paints the picture of this dynamic by describing his last day in the NFL and I'm sure you will be as astounded as I was when you listen.

This was a particularly special episode for me because I have hit 80 episodes and also because it proves that if you have a vision, you can make anything happen.  I came across Kyle's story when I first started the podcast, and knew I needed to get him on the show one day.  I followed him on Instagram, where Kyle always posts the epic sunsets he sees from his back yard.  I always pictured myself doing an interview at his house one day ( not in a weird super-fan way ) and it actually happened.  Athlete or not, injured or not, if you see it and you believe it, you can undoubtedly achieve it!

WHERE CAN YOU learn more about CBD and Neuro Armour?

WEBSITE | InstagramFACEBOOK

WHERE CAN YOU FIND Kyle turley?

websiteINSTAGRAM Twitter | Music 

Download Episode 80 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud

75 : The Role of Cannabis in Sports Medicine, w/ Retired NFL Lineman Eben Britton

Photo from Howard Stern.com

Photo from Howard Stern.com

I remember being a junior in high school and my buddy on the football team had some of us over to hang out one night in the off-season.  After eating some dinner and probably playing some Halo on Xbox, we went to one of his neighbor’s houses to meet up with some other friends.  When we got there I remember a few of the kids bringing out some marijuana to smoke. This was the first time I had ever even seen marijuana or a bong.  After a pretty successful junior campaign, my dream of playing college football was at an all-time high (no pun intended) and I was about as straight-edged as they come.  I was so laser focused and obsessed with this goal that I refused to be put in any situation that might jeopardize the achievement of that goal. So naturally, I called my mom to pick me up.  To my friends credit, they waited to smoke until after I left.  People often ask the question, “where do you think you’ll be in ten years?” 

If you told me in the car-ride home from that gathering that I would be attending the World Medical Cannabis Conference (pictures below) in ten years I would have said, “are you f***ing high?!” (Pun intended).  I was significantly influenced by the stigma associated with cannabis from a young age, particularly because of the D.A.R.E. program at school which told us our brain’s were going to turn to mush if we ever smoked marijuana and the only thing we would be great at in life would be collecting Dorito dust on our parent’s couch.  To this day, I have never consumed even an ounce of cannabis (well…maybe some second-hand).  It’s funny how worried I was about what a plant would do to deteriorate my brain and not about what smashing my skull into everything with a different colored jersey was doing to it.  I certainly learned the hard way that running people over and making big hits probably isn’t the best way to conserve brain cells. To be honest, I worry about my brain health as I get older and so are a lot of other former football players and NFLers.  Believe it or not, the very plant that we have been told was going to ruin our lives might be the remedy for preserving brain health and saving the game of football and this week’s guest Eben Britton teaches us why.

Photo from jaguars.com

Photo from jaguars.com

Eben Britton spent 6 seasons (2009-2016) in the NFL on the offensive line.  The first four seasons were with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the last two with the Chicago Bears.  Prior to the NFL, Eben was an All American at the University of Arizona where he studied creative writing. I drove out to Pittsburgh to meet Eben where he was speaking at the World Medical Cannabis Conference (as mentioned earlier in this post) where he and three other retired NFL players (Todd Herremans, Marvin Washington and Nate Jackson) spoke on behalf of an organization called Athletes For Care. Athletes For Care is a non-profit organization founded by a group of pro athletes who are uniting as one voice to advocate for research, education, and compassion when addressing important health issues facing athletes and the public at large. In the steel city, Eben and the rest of the Athletes For Care team were advocating for the removal of cannabis from the list of banned substances in the NFL.  Each athlete spoke about the ways they have been able to use marijuana to alleviate the pain that inevitably comes when playing football both during and after their career’s.  Many NFL players become addicted to the opiate pain killers they are prescribed when in the league (like previous guest David Vobora) and after attending the conference and listening to Eben’s story, I am a true believer in this cause.  I was blown away by the countless benefits cannabis offers to the world.  After speaking on the Athlete Panel during the conference, Eben generously took time to share his story and teach us about the benefits of cannabis on the podcast.

Photo Courtesy of Eben Britton

Photo Courtesy of Eben Britton

Eben was raised in a family that was holistically minded.  Natural remedies were always the first go-to medicines and he frequently went to yoga classes as a kid.  He didn’t start playing football until he was a freshman in high school and that was after a lot of convincing to his mom who was always terrified he was going to get hurt.  Even before he suited up and walked out on to the field for the first time, he was focused and determined to be the best football player he could possibly be and everything he did went towards achieving that mission.

Fortunately, Eben didn’t deal with a lot of injuries in high school or college besides a chronically subluxating shoulder.  However, while playing the Chiefs during his 2nd season in league, his shoulder fully dislocated for the first time. He was also dealing with a herniated disc in his back and was on a handful of medications including Adderall, Toradol and Vicodin. Eben says that he and most of his teammates would get a shot of Toradol before each game, which is extremely destructive on the human body considering an NFL football season can last up to 6 months.  Standard recommendations for Toradol are as follows: “Toradol should not be used for longer than 5 days, including both injection plus tablets. Long-term use of this medicine can damage your kidneys or cause bleeding.” 

Eben described how these opiates mask your pain through the central nervous system by basically telling your brain you're not in pain.  However, Eben believes this isn't necessarily a beneficial quality of the drugs because pain serves a purpose.  In addition, Eben talked about some other negative effects of the drugs most frequently prescribed for NFL players which includes an increased frequency of the negative and dark thoughts that would pop up while on injured reserved, along with the mood swings that caused him to be angry and irrational. Not to mention waking up at 3am with the withdrawal symptoms of chills and cold sweats. Juxtapose this experience with the effects of cannabis and the differences are glaring.  During the interview, Eben discusses the science behind the medicinal herb, cannabis, and how it affects the body naturally.

Fortunately, Eben stayed relatively injury free in high school or college so he didn't need to take a whole lot of pain killers.  The first time Eben tried marijuana he was in high school after football season and had an intense experience, but because of that he didn’t use it again until he got to the NFL.  You might be saying to yourself, "but isn't that illegal?" Eben talks about the structure of drug testing in the NFL and how to not got caught.  Cannabis is considered a street drug in the NFL and these drugs are only tested once a year.  The testing for street drugs occurs anytime between the start of OTA’s to the end of training camp. Performance enhancing drug tests are conducted at random throughout the whole year.

As mentioned earlier, I have never used cannabis, so I asked Eben what cannabis does to the pain football players and athletes deal with on a regular basis. Eben said that cannabis doesn't kill your pain, it just reframes it. He went on to describe cannabis as a comfort blanket.  Eben said that every football player is so overly adrenalized because they spend all day everyday in a super extreme environment and constantly running on adrenaline and cortisol.  In other words, they are in a constant state of fight or flight.  Cannabis, according to Eben, fosters an environment of healing in your body. Eben also went on the drop some knowledge bombs on some of Dr. Mechoulam's research who is considered the godfather of cannabinoid.  Specifically, mice studies have shown when someone or something gets a concussion, receptors in the brain initiate the healing process by releasing the neurotransmitter glutamate, which is toxic to the brain over a period of time, especially in football players who are constantly knocking heads. Glutamate starts to destroy brain matter over an extended period of time and is thought to be one of the causes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE. Cannabinoids cross the blood brain barrier and are able to shut off the receptors pumping glutamate, neutralize the glutamate and actually trigger neurogenesis to form new brain cells. Eben also went on to tell me that cannabis is actually a bronchodilator, which means that it actually improves lung function.

We finished the episode by talking about Eben's transition to life after football and debunking the stigma associated with cannabis.  NFL is often thought to stand for "Not For Long" by many of the athletes who played in the league, but while you're in it, no one is thinking about their inevitable demise.  Guys who reach the upper echelons of the sport have had to sacrifice a lot to get to that point.  Eben says that his transition to life after football has been one of the biggest struggles of his life, but also one of the most rewarding. He advises that athletes need to be gentle to themselves during their transitions, appreciate the work you have done and have gratitude for that experience. Eben's advice for current athletes is to give yourself some distance from your sport at times.  He believes all athletes have an element of creativity inherently inside them and it is important for them to have an outlet outside of the game.  For Eben, that outlet has often been writing.  Some of his articles have been linked up at the bottom of this post.  Eben is passionate about helping other athletes during their transition to life after sports and has helped start The Athletes Afterlife program through Athletes For Care. This program is intended to serve as a support group for athletes to share their struggle and help translate sports skills to other areas. These groups are for athletes of any level and sport. 

I was a guy who fed into the stigma associated with cannabis my whole life.  To be completely honest, I judged guys who used it.  The judgement stemmed from my lack of knowledge about the plant and from living in a society that demonizes it.  Eben says that we need to shift the paradigm of our thinking when it comes to cannabis.  We need to think of the pills that are made in a laboratory as the stuff that we want to stay away from and view the medicine that grows from the earth and is naturally occurring in our bodies as the stuff that will help us.  I hope this episode will help de-stigmatize the drug and prevent athletes from becoming addicted to pain killers in the future.

Eben's Articles 

First Times: Balancing Football and Cannabis with ex-NFL Lineman Eben Britton

What Does It Take To Stay In The NFL? You Don’t Want To Know

WHERE CAN YOU FIND Athletes for care?

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER 

WHERE CAn you find Eben britton?

INSTAGRAM | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

Download Episode 75 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud