81 : Uncovering The Influence of Toughness & Masculinity, Dr. Jarrod Spencer, Sports Psychologist

Jarrod Spencer Horizontal 81.jpg

Episode 81 brings us back to Bethlehem PA, to talk with Dr. Jarrod Spencer, Sports Psychologist at Mind of the Athlete.  Last time Jarrod was on the show in episode 50 we talked about the athlete transition to life after sports.  However, this time we spoke about a topic that I am very curious and passionate about, which is how our society's definition of toughness and masculinity affects athletes. This was our summer intern Alex's first field trip for the podcast, hence the nice action shots we have from the day (below).  George Bright, who has close to 30 years of experience in college athletics, also sat in on our conversation.

Below you will find an outline of our conversation:

  • Dr. Spencer's definition of toughness: like the classic definition; being comfortable being uncomfortable (being in a stressful situation that drains your energy and makes you anxious)
  • Toughest person in the eyes of Dr. Spencer : Tim Tebow. This is because he has stood up in the face of a culture that has pushed him down, but still does it with lifted spirits and a smile on his face.
    • Couldn't agree more!
  • How the media's portrayal of injuries has masked the reality of being a football player (not showing the icebaths, opiates/painkillers, the difficulty to treat pain).
    • It should be no surprise that this led to a discussion on cannabis.
  • Dr. Spencer believes the science is proving the benefits of cannabinoids.
    • That doesn't mean there isn't a downside.
      • THC w/ athletes: can become a problem for athletes that depend on it to relieve stress/anxiety.
    • The importance of rethinking the culture of Cannabinoids with a more scientific approach.
  • What the athletes need to know: It’s ok to cry and express yourself.
  • The importance that coaches understand the weight their words carry with young athletes.
  • How mental health is going to be the next big problem. NCAA could be a stepping stone for this.
  • Dr. Spencer's Earliest memory of toughness: Jr. High School Wrestler (Phillipsburg, NJ). Finished 2nd, and it felt like there was a death in the family.
    • Playing through injuries subsequently.
  • Memory bank: amygdala serves as a protective mechanism as a guideline
  • Overriding the amygdala: rethinking situations and taking different angles (relaxing, breathing, etc)
  • A moment Dr. Spencer felt emasculated: After suffering a concussion playing football in college because he was failing at the simplest tasks, which made him feel weak.
  • The moment when Dr. Spencer felt like he exuded toughness and masculinity the most: when his daughter became extremely ill about 10 years ago.
    • Proved that even sometimes when you are at your lowest, you will experience moments of toughness.
  • Where does the bar lie when it comes to toughness?
    • Relative to each person and family.
  • How do we redefine where that bar lies?
    •  When we put the science behind injuries that would normalize it and maybe make it more relatable to the public.
  • Gender discrepancy with toughness.
  • How does Jarrod define toughness for his kids? Definition of toughness to Jarrod’s kids
    • Surround them with the right people and role models
    • How they compete, how they worship God, how they talk, how they relate religion to their lives
    • Showing bright spots where they can emulate
  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes
    • Not just for Christians
The power of positive thinking.

The power of positive thinking.

After the interview, Dr. Spencer taught me about the power of positive thinking.  He did so by having me raise my arm out in front of me, think about a negative or positive thought while he tried to press my arm down.  It was amazing to see how much stronger I was when I was thinking positive thoughts.  George Bright noticed that subconsciously my stance also completely changed when I was thinking negative thoughts, which ended up putting me in a weaker position.

Photo: John Munson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com Ryan Finlay (Game MVP) of West Morris rolling out in the 24th Annual Paul Robeson Classic All-Star Game.

Photo: John Munson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Ryan Finlay (Game MVP) of West Morris rolling out in the 24th Annual Paul Robeson Classic All-Star Game.

To close out this post I just wanted to reflect on my experience of watching the 24th Annual Paul Robeson (I encourage you to do some research on Paul Robeson, he was one tough dude) All-Star Game where I was supporting my friend Ryan Finlay who will be playing safety for Gettysburg College next year.  I have spoken in depth with Ryan about how my definition of toughness has dramatically changed over the years.  This has also had an influence on the way that I watch football today.  There were three instances in particular I witnessed in this game that I wanted to address and this was just in the first half:

  1. Early in the game there was a phenomenal pick-six interception for the West team.  With any dramatic change of field like this, there are usually many opportunities for a big crack-back (blindside) block.  One of this players teammates laid a huge hit on the last remaining East defender which sprung him to a touchdown.  The crowd erupted, the sidelines went nuts, and even I found myself saying "Ohhhhhhh!" At that moment I realized that as a culture, we are all conditioned to react that way when we see a big hit and that even I am a part of the problem I am seeking to fix.  There was no replay at the game, but I do believe this player led with his head on this hit to an opponent that had no idea he was coming.  In my mind, a safer and equally as effective shoulder block could have been used.  Would the crowd still have erupted?  Yes, but to the same degree? Probably not, but what's more important? Your brain? Or how "cool/tough/masculine" you look on the field? I think my dude Kyle Turley referred to these types of hits as the extracurriculars that he could have done without. 
  2. The second incident happened as the East quarterback was rolled out to pass on forth down (I believe) , saw no one  open, tucked the ball and started running up the West sideline.  The East player still had about 4 yards to get the first down as a defender came in to make a tackle.  The quarterback had two options.  He could either run out of bounds, turnover the ball on downs, and not get hit. Or, he could attempt to run though the defender in hopes of breaking a tackle, but in all likely hood still not get the first down and potentially get hurt.  This player chose to go out of bounds.  All the West players started chirping at this QB and even parents in the stands were yelling "He doesn't want to get hit!" In my 27 year old eyes, this QB was smart, not a sissy.  Guys who want to extend their careers as long as possible should take notes from him. To me, there is a time and a place for lowering the shoulder and trying to gain some extra yards.  Those are near the goal line, and a yard from the first down in a playoff or championship game.  If you try to run people over in pre-season scrimmages, I promise you, you wont make it to the playoffs, but hey at least you looked "tough" for about 3 seconds.
  3. The last play was a hit that never happened.  A ball was thrown to a receiver in the flat.  One of the defenders recognized the play early on and made a be-line to make a big hit.  The defender left his feet and launched himself into the air like a missile to make the tackle.  Luckily, the receiver saw the flying defender at the last second and side-stepped him, gaining an additional 5 yards on the play.  I was sitting next to Ryan's brother Kevin and he said that kid almost got crushed. I replied to him saying yeah, but had he broken down and made a form tackle like we are taught, he wouldn't have missed the tackle.  Moral of the story is, are highlight hits worth costing your team yards?  I guarantee if that was a regular season game, the defender would be getting chewed out during the film session for missing that tackle.

I am not here to ruin America's precious game of football.  I love football and being at the game gave me that itch to throw the pads back on.  Kenny Chesney's Boys of Fall song says it all.  I brought those points up because in my eyes, those are simple ways to make the game safer without changing any rules.  I hope this this episode helps to reframe what toughness is to you and I believe that together, we can redefine it.

WHERE CAN YOU FIND OUT MORE ABOUT MIND OF THE ATHLETE?

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WHERE CAN YOU FOLLOW DR. SPENCER?

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Download Episode 81 : 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

79 : Identifying/Mitigating Risk & A Veteran's Transition After Roadside Bomb, Ryan Miller

Ryan Miller medically retired as a Captain from the US Army in 2012 due to severe wounds he received in Iraq, which ultimately led to the amputation of his left leg.  After becoming dependent on opiate painkillers throughout his recovery he now advocates for cannabis use.  Ryan graduated with a degree in Nuclear Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point and earned a masters degree in both business administration and public policy from Harvard.  I met Ryan while in Pittsburgh at the World Medical Cannabis Convention and Expo for my interview with Eben Britton.  I felt an immediate connection to Ryan when I walked up to him at the C.A.M.O. booth and he began to educate me on the many benefits that cannabis and hemp have to offer to the world.  It wasn't until later on in our conversation that I found out the he was wearing a prosthetic leg under his jeans.

Ryan grew up in Staten Island, NY and defined himself as a football player at Stuyvesant High School, which he described as a school full of overachievers.  As a fellow fullback/linebacker, Ryan was never afraid of a little contact. During this episode, Ryan takes us through some moments of his high school glory days including a play where he suffered a compression sprain of his spine and forced him out of the remainder of that game.  Besides that injury, Ryan stayed relatively healthy and surgery-free until the wounds he suffered on the battlefield during his military career.

"All your live's have just changed dramatically, That said, we have to lab, we have to execute."

In addition to his influential uncle, Ryan decided to attend The United States Military Academy at West Point as a way to further differentiate himself from his high school classmates who were going on to Harvard, Yale, etc.  Ryan started at West Point in the Fall of 2001 and one of my favorite parts of this interview was when he described what the atmosphere was like on campus on 9/11.  Ryan's high school football team practiced on a field that was literally in the shadows of the World Trade Center, so seeing the planes crash into the buildings obviously hit home hard.  Ryan had just gotten back from the pharmacy and made his bed for AMI (morning inspection). While walking to class, he heard someone say something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Ryan's initial thoughts were that it must have been a small plane.  When he got to class one of his teachers had the tv on, and told the class "all your live's have just changed dramatically. That said, we have to lab, we have to execute. Ryan says that sense of normalcy around campus was everywhere.

“He (Professor) was almost planting the seed...Hey we just went on convoy and lost the most beloved member of the platoon, we have to go back out there and execute tomorrow."

I eventually asked Ryan how he ended up going into Infantry after majoring in nuclear engineering.  His answer was interesting in that he said it was quasi peer pressure at West Point.  I believe the dynamics of this peer pressure is similar to the pressures that exist in sports which serve as the foundation of the culture of toughness.  Although addressing the influence of peer pressure on his decision, Ryan doesn't regret his decision at all. 

Ryan was in southern Baghdad, on a high profile mission reassessing the most recently cleared section of the city on October 18th 2007.   He was in a Stryker unit, which is an armored personnel carrier.  These vehicles are really cool and I included a series of videos below to explain their varying capabilities. At that time in southern Baghdad the biggest threat were houses that were rigged to explode.  However, it was a roadside bomb that hit the Stryker unit, which led to Ryan's injuries (severe damage to left leg, shrapnel wounds to the organs in his torso).  Ryan goes into detail in these moments, and nothing I write in this post will give that story justice, so make sure to give this episode a listen!

 (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Juan Valdes)

 (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Juan Valdes)

According to Ryan, in 2007 the best place to have a traumatic injury was Baghdad Iraq because it had the highest survival rate.  Despite the severe wounds to his left leg, he was able to salvage his limb for 3 years after the accident and worked with a future podcast guest, Johnny Owens in the process. We discuss what went into the decision to amputate and you might be surprised to learn that it wasn't anything he lost sleep over. This was because of the lack of functionality Ryan had with his limb and he remembers other people with prosthetics running circles around him.  Prior to his injury, Ryan weighed 230 pounds and was running  a sub 12 minute 2 mile.  Like our man Chris Norton, Ryan advises wounded veterans and injured athletes to not compare yourself to who you were in the past. Ryan also recommends finding a group that challenges you in your recovery and beyond.  

These pieces of advice came from Ryan's struggles throughout his recovery, particularly while in grad school at Harvard where the degradation of his performance was most glaring for him.  Based on Ryan's academic credentials, its safe to assume that he was an absolute rock start in school, especially after graduating near the top of his class at West Point.  However, while at Harvard, Ryan remembers struggling academically, which he believes might have had something to do with the traumatic brain injuries on the battlefield and the opiate use while rehabbing to save his leg.  Lacking a peer group after his injury and physically being in a lot of pain led to a lack of social interaction that could have been beneficial in his recovery.

Although most people assume Ryan used cannabis to get off pain killers, it was actually the rehab done at The Center for The Intrepid that did it.  Despite being strongly against marijuana in high school, he tried it recreationally while in grad school and noticed the positive affects it had on his mood and restless leg syndrome.  Eventually Ryan moved out to California and began advocating for Cannabis to help other veterans kick their addictions to pain killers because he believes that has a lot to do with the high suicide rates among veterans.  Check out some of the organizations listed below that Ryan is involved with.

Lastly, Ryan lives his definition of toughness day in and day out.  To Ryan, toughness is being vulnerable enough to see all sides of an issue and take a stand for what you know is right after educating yourself on the topic at hand. Marijuana and cannabis as a whole have been demonized for decades and by listening to Ryan, a West Point and Harvard graduate, we get a different perspective that has the power to cultivate a new image they may have a positive affect in the world of sports.

WHERE CAN YOU learn more about Ryan's organizations?

Field - Website

Warrior Rising - Website | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram

C.A.M.O. - Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

WHERE CAN YOU FIND Ryan Miller?

email : ryan@fieldapp.co | Linkedin

Download Episode 79 : iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud