If I knew Then What I Know Now, I Never Would’ve Played Football – Part 2 of an Interview with Anthony Davis

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In Part 2 of an interview with former NFL and USC football star, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana discuss growing up with sports, and how choices made on the field can affect all aspects of life down the road. Learn which sports are the worst for your children’s health, as well as which ones could actually help them live longer.


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Tana Amen: So we're back with our friend, Anthony Davis. We're really loving this series about football and brain damaging sports ... not just football. And this segment's gonna be really important to people like me, mama bears, right? Because we want to make sure that our kids are happy and doing things that they love but, at the same time, it's really important we do things that are really healthy and that we're protecting our kids. So, we want to hear from somebody who's actually experienced this, Anthony Davis, who just got done saying in his last podcast with us that if he knew then what he knows now, he never would have played football, and we're talking to someone with a high level of success in his sport.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Hall of Fame running back from USC. He was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy-

Tana Amen: And an NFL player.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And an NFL player. And is known, literally all over the world, for his prowess on a football field.

But as you had said, you actually were really good in two sports. Why did you pick football over baseball?

Anthony Davis: Let's go back to my coach, the great Rod Dedeaux. I was part of 11 of his national title teams. I was on three straight. He says ... and his favorite word- He called everyone "Tiger." He says, "Tiger, you're a number one draft choice. We really wanted you to play baseball at USC along with football." I says, "Your career is in baseball." He said, "Despite what you did on the football field, your so-called success and fame, your career is baseball." But the main reason, back in the day, it was all financial. There was just- it was a thing where there was more opportunity financially in football than baseball at time. I came out of school when it was no free agency. I was a year away from free agency. So, 1960s- 1976, they have free agency. I missed it by a year. If that had been- that had changed everything as well. So it was all financial why I went football.

Tana Amen: And there's probably a lot of kids who feel that need.

Anthony Davis: Right. Well, nowadays, you have all the benefits in both sports. So if I was coming out today, there would be no choice of me ... what sport I'd be in.

Tana Amen: But for kids who don't have your natural athletic ability in two sports, and they do have that athletic ability in football, but say they're coming from a neighborhood- I grew up poor. And I know it was not fun being poor. And they want out of that. They want out of that neighborhood. So, that's a big draw. I mean that's a hard one to say no to.

Anthony Davis: Well that's true. And what I say, if you're really passionate about the game of football, you have to know the consequences. You gotta know if you're gonna play this game, there's gonna be some consequences, physically. And from the brain standpoint, those collisions was very damaging. So I tell all parents who approach me, now that they know I'm with the Amen Clinic, I say, well, just know the consequences. Because if they play, there's gonna be some damage.

Tana Amen: There's no question.

Anthony Davis: Anyone who puts a helmet on their head on any level- youth, high school, college, and professionally- there's gonna be trauma.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So the Mayo Clinic actually did a study. They got 600- they had autopsied brains of people who'd played football at any level, and they found a third of them, one third of them had evidence of CTE. So, CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. What we think of as football dementia ... that was discovered by our friend, Bennet Omalu. And ... would you ever allow a child to do something where they had a 33 percent change of ending up with chronic long-term brain damage? And I played for two years in high school, and I wasn't that good or very big ... but you can see evidence of damage in my first scan. And I'm not okay with that.

Tana Amen: So I have a question though. Because, as a mom, this is really important. Aren't developing brains more at risk, or not?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Absolutely.

Anthony Davis: Yes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right? I mean, if you start smoking pot when you're 14, the level of damage in your brain is much higher than if you started when you were 25. And so ... Boston University came out with guidelines, and they said children should not play contact sports before the age of 14. And I wrote an editorial and I went, why don't you like 15 year olds? That the brain is actually not finished developing in girls until they're 25, and boys until they're about 28. That, it's just a bad idea. And I was at a conference, and the father, who is a billionaire ... he said, "But my son really wants to play. What should I tell him?" I said, "Well what would you tell him if your son said, well I really want to do cocaine?" Because the level of damage is the same. I said, "Would you go get him a coach to do cocaine?" Because, you know, he was at a [inaudible 00:05:12] a billion dollars, so he was getting him a football coach and, you know, giving him all the opportunities. And I'm like, that's just not a good idea.

But you know there are things- I mean, exercise, obviously important. It's obviously important for your health and for the brain. So what are sports that are brain healthy? As you've thought about this, Anthony.

Anthony Davis: Well, you have baseball, of course. But you can get hit in the head from a line drive, which, that happened to one of my teammates, ended his career- named Steve Kemp, played with the Yankees. He was in pregame warmup, and a line drive hit him on side of the head. That was a freak accident.

Tana Amen: But it's a freak accident. That's the key term.

Anthony Davis: The only thing I can think, if it's track ...

Tana Amen: But, tennis. Like, net sports ... racket sports ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: Did you know ... you may not know this. There's a new study that came out from England. People who play racket sports live longer than everybody else. That football players live less long. Soccer players live less long. Runners didn't live longer. It was tennis, badminton, table tennis, racketball ... they live longer than everyone else, because it works their cerebellum in the back part of the brain. So you remember when I first scanned you, and your cerebellum was sleepy. It wasn't-

Tana Amen: Which is odd.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And you are a Hall of Fame athlete-

Tana Amen: Doesn't that seem crazy?

Dr. Daniel Amen: So coordinated. And I felt like such a bozo when I said, "Anthony, you gotta do coordination exercises. We have to work your cerebellum." And ten years later, your cerebellum's better. So any coordination sport is good for a developing brain. And that also includes dance. That dance is awesome. And Chloe goes- she does, what, two hours of dance a week?

Tana Amen: Oh no. Like, 14. She does a lot of dance.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Chloe, you know, our daughter, she does a lot of- So, dancing is awesome.

Tana Amen: Her cerebellum was sleepy. And that's one of the reasons she does so much dance, is because she didn't like feeling uncoordinated and now she's actually quite coordinated, so it's really helpful.

Anthony Davis: Well I danced all the time too ... high school, all that kind of stuff. I actually won a dance contest at a-

Tana Amen: Oh that's awesome.

Anthony Davis: -on Channel 9. It was called Ball City.

Tana Amen: That's awesome.

Anthony Davis: So, how did we do that? Myself and a woman by the name of Simone [inaudible 00:07:43].

Tana Amen: That's awesome. Well I practice martial arts, and that's actually also good for coordination, as long as you're not doing the competitive martial arts where you're getting hit in the head. So, yeah. I love to hit things, I just don't like things hitting me back.

Anthony Davis: What about MMA fighting? That's-

Tana Amen: That's crazy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's a disaster. 'Cause they're getting kicked in the head, their head's getting slammed in the back ...

Tana Amen: That's a whole different level. I mean, I do it for a very different reason.

Anthony Davis: Being on the program, I know now, from just the review of my ten years on the program, I was very flawed. Looking back in review of my life to this point, I was a very flawed individual. I mean, I did some- decision makings were bad, the kind of people around was bad. I mean, it was-

Tana Amen: But isn't it nice to know that there's hope and redemption?

Anthony Davis: You know ... Since I've been on this program, I know some people tell their doctors ... says, "Doc, I'm taking your medication. I'm taking your product." And I said to myself, I wonder if Doc Amen really believes I really religiously take the product and take the program serious. Well, after I left that day, they were so happy about the results of the scan-

Tana Amen: See we've got proof.

Anthony Davis: So I know Doc Amen knows now that I've been religious in taking the product because of the scans ... So I just want you to know I'm a religious guy in what I do. I'm a very regimen person. I'm a soldier. If you stick-

Tana Amen: And it shows.

Dr. Daniel Amen: What I would love for so many of our athletes. They're okay with being coached. They're okay with that.

Tana Amen: Right. Once they have a plan, they usually are good about sticking to it.

Anthony Davis: If you stick to the plan, it works. And that's why, ten years later, now I can really go out and say, the proof's in the pudding with me. Go to the Clinic and you can see.

Tana Amen: Yeah, athletes and soldiers tend to have more of that warrior mindset. They just need to know that there's hope. And they need to know what to do. It's that warrior mindset of, I'm just gonna do it, that helps them be successful.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So I don't know if you remember, but after we went to the meeting with the retired NFL Players Association, that we agreed to do 30 scans to try to answer the question, does playing football at a high level cause long-term brain damage? But the problem, like with you, I fell in love with the players, and their damage was so bad that I went, well can you fix it? 'Cause no one has ever shown that you can reverse traumatic brain injury in football players. And for those players who did what we asked them to do, when we did a followup scan, 80 percent of them-

Tana Amen: That's incredible.

Dr. Daniel Amen: -were better. So, if you've been bad to your brain, or if your children-

Tana Amen: Like you said, made bad decisions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: -have been bad to your brain, it's so important to get serious about rehabilitation. Which means you don't just try to rehabilitate it for a month. That you may end up ... this is what I need to do the rest of my life, to take care of the damage that I've done. And we have, together- we have been able to reverse that damage so that hopefully you have less episodes of confusion, less episodes of wondering if you locked the door, and so on. So imagine, ten years later, you hadn't met us and been so consistent, that your life would not be as good.

Anthony Davis: Well I might not even be here. I mean, you know, based on your diagnosis, I was headed for pre-dementia. I could have had full-blown dementia by now.

Tana Amen: Yeah, true.

Anthony Davis: So, you know, based on what I've seen in some of the players that are no longer here with us, who passed away from that ...

Tana Amen: So if we bring this back to sports for children, let's just quickly go through the ones we know are bad. So, football, hockey, hitting soccer balls with your head, what else?

Anthony Davis: Youth boxing.

Tana Amen: MMA. Boxing. We've got to-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Race car driving.

Tana Amen: For youth?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, they clearly do street driving. In fact, that's how Sandra's daughter died, was somebody who was-

Tana Amen: Yeah, he was 21. He was racing drunk.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He was doing racing. And one of the sports that people never think about are horseback riding.

Tana Amen: And cheerleading.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And I always think of what killed Superman? It was a horse that broke Christopher Reeve's neck.

Tana Amen: There's a lot of falls on horses.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And, then cheerleading-

Tana Amen: Cheerleading, yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're right. You were a cheerleader.

Tana Amen: And we got hurt, a lot.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Especially the little tiny ones. The flyers that, they're thrown up in the air ... sometime they get dropped.

Tana Amen: Right. So, then let's talk about things that are- Let's recap on what is good for kids. So, racket sports, tennis, track and field ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: Table tennis.

Tana Amen: We just said ... yeah. You're always going to push on the table tennis-

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's an Olympic sport.

Tana Amen: What about golf?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Golf is great. There's actually evidence people that play golf have a larger hippocampus. It's the structure in your brain involved in getting short-term memory into long-term memory. So, golf is good. Tennis is terrific. Dancing. Track-

Tana Amen: And so we already talked about baseball.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But there are some track sports that are really not good for your brain-

Tana Amen: Like pole vaulting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Like pole vaulting.

Anthony Davis: High jumping.

Tana Amen: I knew you were going to say that. But, baseball is really ... You can get hurt in anything, but that's not the goal.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And basketball, yes you can have concussions, but it's not the goal. Snowboarding is dangerous. I can't tell you the number of snow boarding-

Tana Amen: So I have to jump in there, because I just cringe every time my daughter- I used to ski a lot, but I stopped after I got pregnant with my daughter. But I was a trauma nurse, a neurosurgical ICU trauma nurse, and I worked at Loma Linda which is at the base of the mountains ... Every year these kids would come in and, see, they think that because they didn't always- They think that their heads are protected sometimes. Some of the really crazy ones would wear helmets. They would come in with compression fractures and break their necks. The number of head injuries and broken necks, quadriplegics, paraplegics we got every year was crazy.

Anthony Davis: We know that there's a chance at getting hurt in any sport, but the ones we're talking about staying away, we know-

Tana Amen: It's a high level of risk. A high percentage of injuries.

Anthony Davis: Absolutely.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, know the truth, and the truth will set you free. And 14 year olds ... they're not adults, and they should not be making those decisions. That's why God gave you parents, and I always say, you are your child's frontal lobes- judgment, forethought, impulse control- until theirs develops.

Tana Amen: I want to jump in on one more thing, 'cause this was another one that we took care of ridiculous number of injuries, was ... because it's often done as a family sport, are the little dirt bikes, or the ATV. People go out as families up to the sand dunes and they go out and do these crazy things ... Same thing. They think the helmet is going to protect them. It does not protect you from ... like you said, that shaken baby syndrome. It also does not protect you against compression fractures in the neck.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You traumatized me. Because I remember, you and I hadn't actually met yet, but Jesse, my son-in-law had been riding four-wheelers in the dessert with his father, and he didn't tell me ahead of time because he knew I wouldn't approve. And his four-wheeler went over a big dip, but the front wheels didn't go over the dip. They hit the wall. And it flung him 40 feet in the air. And I had his before scan and his after scan, and it wasn't good. His father also had a concussion that weekend on the four-wheeler, and he just went downhill after that-

Tana Amen: Didn't he end up committing suicide?

Dr. Daniel Amen: And six months later, he committed suicide.

Tana Amen: Yeah, that was really sad.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Traumatic brain injuries are major cause of depression, of suicide, of panic attacks, of learning problems, of addictions, of homelessness ... We're going to talk about that when we talk about in the shadows, next. Stay with us. You're here with us on the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. We're gonna come back with our friend, Anthony Davis.