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In part 3 of the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast series with NFL and USC football star Anthony Davis, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana interview Davis, now 30 years removed from his professional playing days, to discuss how a post–football lifestyle can either powerfully influence positive brain health, or, as in the sad stories of many former teammates, can take its tragic toll.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen. I am here with Tana and we are here with our friend Anthony Davis, Hall of Fame running back from USC, former NFL player and someone who was scanned in 2007 and again in 2017 showing remarkable improvement, in large part because he did what we asked him to do.
Tana Amen: So fast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I just like what I say with my patients, "Just please follow the program and do it. Don't change it." He's good at being coach. What we're going to talk about on this podcast, we're going to call it, "In the Shadows," because there are so many people throughout the world suffering with brain damage in the shadows and they're being judged by other people. They're being diminished or forgotten and we want to shed light on them.
Tana Amen: Before we get started, I just want to say because Anthony Davis, you come in and you say you're a good soldier, you're a good ambassador, you do all these good things as far as following through but I just want everyone to know how much we appreciate you because what you're doing is really important and you're not only ... We're very proud to call you a friend but it's really important what you're doing and the message you're getting out there because this In the Shadows topic, it's way too big of a story and we need to do a better job. So thank you for being here with us and doing this.
Anthony Davis: My pleasure. I'm very fortunate to be able to be on this program here, but 10 years. That's what I marvel at, 10 years that I sort of lost. Like, "Was it really 10 years?" When I'm an ambassador for this cause and I embrace it and I put the word out wherever I go and this is a team effort for how I look at it.
Tana Amen: Love that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When we first met and I think it's fair to say, the NFL was really having trouble with the truth on this issue. What were you seeing then among other people who played football at a high level?
Anthony Davis: What kind of damage I saw, ugh. I met guys that didn't even ... I met one guy and I wouldn't want to mention names with the family would embarrass who's no longer here too. He didn't even know me. He played with me. He played with me a couple years. Didn't know me. I actually walked to him and says, "Hey, how you doing? I'm your ex-teammate."
"Well, you look like him but you're not him." So that was very severe. His wife was there. Of course it was dementia. Full blown dementia. Like I said, I have another ex-teammate who's doing better now but who lost memory. We had another guy who I played against who's brother was my teammate, Rob McNeill. We lost Fred McNeill who I played against in college and professionally and then there's a lot more people we don't even know about that are out there wondering the streets. Families don't know where they are. Don't know how to handle the situation. They don't really know what kind of damage they have.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Since you brought up Fred, I actually treated Fred and I remember my first session with Fred and he's describing ... He's an attorney so Fred's a bright guy. He played at UCLA and then for the Minnesota Vikings and then he got out and went to law school at UCLA. He's a smart guy but he started losing his focus, his memory, his impulse control. He changes his personality and Tia, who's like the most loving person on the planet just thinks he doesn't love her anymore and they get divorced. When I'm talking to him he's telling me about this scissors he has up next to an artery in his arm and he's really to kill himself and I'm like, "Oh my God." It was urgent.
He had severe depression and he was starting into dementia and that's why he couldn't do his caseload as an attorney. So he's gotten divorced, he can't do his job, he's feeling more alone and isolated and his brain was clearly not healthy. There are severe consequences to longterm brain damage.
Tana Amen: That's what I want to know. I have a question because we hear stories, lots of them. All the way from some of these guys who just sound like jerks, quite frankly when you see it on the news. You see on the news these guys that are whatever. Anything from fighting dogs to beating up their girlfriends to all the way to committing suicide.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And murder.
Tana Amen: And it's really sad. And murder. We think of it as, "Oh, they're bad guys," if we don't know the back story but you know the back story. So some of these guys that are getting arrested for some of these crazy things, what do you know about them? Were they always bad guys?
Anthony Davis: First of all when I see that since being in this program and me before that, there's some issues were up there anyway now that I know what is because there's a lot of trauma there and traumatic brain trauma they've had from the game. That's what it is. When you get beat in the head, something's got to give. Your brain just can't absorb it without having a bad reaction. What I do now, I look at how guys talk and when they get interviewed I see the glaze in their eyes. I see the speech.
Tana Amen: So you see the actual symptoms.
Anthony Davis: I see the symptoms. From a novice standpoint but when I see a guy get hit hard, he's got a concussion, he shouldn't play. Not being a doctor, because I'm not, but I use common sense.
Tana Amen: You've been on the other side.
Anthony Davis: Yeah. The common sense is you know something. When you hear about these episodes, these former players and current players that's due to what they're doing on the field.
Tana Amen: Do you know a lot of them who ended up sort of looking like jerks to the public but weren't always that way?
Anthony Davis: Absolutely.
Tana Amen: So they were good guys at some point?
Anthony Davis: I know they were good guys. Some of them are ... Maybe there's a little small percentage of them that were what I'm talking but ...
Tana Amen: Started out ...
Anthony Davis: Yeah. But as a whole these are decent people.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If OJ gets out of jail this year, I would love to scan him.
Tana Amen: I'm staying out of that one. I'm thinking no comment.
Anthony Davis: I don't know about that one, Doc either.
Tana Amen: I'm making no comment there. You want everybody's brain.
Anthony Davis: There some issues there too. Everyone knows that now. I think there's a narcissistic, sociopathic issue there that needs to be addressed. It's a lot of problems ...
Dr. Daniel Amen: Even if you think of narcissism or sociopathy, so there's actually a study, fascinating study on people who have antisocial personality disorder and a scientist from USC, Adrian Raine, he scanned a group of them and then he compared them to healthy people. You know how he found them? It's really interesting how he found the people with antisocial personality disorder. He went to temporary job agencies because they lose their job a lot. If you can't follow the rules. He found they actually had 10% less volume in their frontal lobe so that part of your brain that's involved in focus and forethought and judgment and impulse control, if that is damaged you're less likely to be able to conform your behavior to societal rules. We've actually scanned a hundred murderers and the damage in their brain is actually really high.
Tana Amen: They think that Caligula had that. I just had to throw that in. His frontal lobes were wiped out.
Anthony Davis: Nothing new, right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Because they had lead in the ...
Tana Amen: Lead in the wine and on the pipes that was in the wine he was drinking and also because they think he had herpes encephalitis.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So behavior is much more complicated but getting back to traumatic brain injury and being in the shadows. There's a study from Toronto that said 58% of the homeless men in Toronto had a significant brain injury before they were homeless. 42% of the homeless women. Some of the huge societal problems, dementia, depression, homelessness, addiction are often the downstream effect of traumatic brain injury.
Tana Amen: Well we've certainly this even in my own family but you have seen this in your NFL family. In your football family.
Anthony Davis: I've seen it in all walks of life. People that I've been around. I see it all the time. I see it every day. I have family issues, I have friend issues who have ...
Tana Amen: Don't most of us, right?
Anthony Davis: Yeah, we all have it. We all have a story behind that. It's a societal ...
Tana Amen: It's easy to call people bad.
Anthony Davis: Sure. It's a societal problem and we need to get our arms around it and try to do the best we can with that problem.
Tana Amen: Yeah, Daniel calls me the judge. It's probably true but knowing you makes it hard to be as judgemental.
Anthony Davis: He just call you the judge. I'd think he'd call you the warden.
Tana Amen: That too. That too. He always says I should have been a judge or a cop, right?
Anthony Davis: Actually, you'd be pretty good based on your command and stuff here.
Tana Amen: Thank you. I'm going to take that as a compliment, whether it was meant that way or not. But knowing our work makes it harder. It makes it harder to be black and white. It makes it harder to be completely judgemental and sometimes I'm like, "I don't want to know the backstory because I just want to be mad about the behavior," but you can't when you know the backstory you suddenly can't because that person now becomes a patient because you have empathy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: They become a person and Dostoevsky the famous Russian author said, "You can tell about the soul of the society, not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but how it treats its criminals." When people do bad things, you at least have to ask the question, "How healthy was their brain?" The wrestler Chris Benoit, who murdered his wife and then committed suicide. Somebody's at least got to ask the question, was traumatic brain injury involved? It then often leads to alcohol abuse which lowers your brain function further which then ... You know, and I always say, "We all have bad thoughts." We all have weird, crazy, sexual, stupid, violent thoughts that nobody should ever hear. Our frontal lobes suppress them and it's like, "Oh, that's not going to help you," right?
Tana Amen: We can't leave this conversation without these guys that are in the shadow so one of the reasons I'm the judge and the cop is because I am a byproduct of an environment like that. It affects a lot of people. It's not just affecting them. We've got to do a better job.
Anthony Davis: Across society it's a problem but when I see it about football, particularly football players and athletes, especially football players. You have an athlete that comes out of a poor socioeconomic background and the educational thing is not really forced, one parent not in the household, that's part of the development as well and then when you play this game and suddenly start getting pounded in the head. They're not even developed at the time. A lot of those problems, I can say that's a little bit of episode of what they deal with is because of that. I'm a victim of that in myself just like you. Didn't have a truly structured home environment and that's very important too in the development of your brain too.
I've learned so much being around this so I started putting two and two together. That's probably why I've had a lot of the issues on and off [crosstalk 00:12:23].
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's not just brain. I'm really happy you brought that up. When we evaluate people we always think of four circles in their lives. So what's the biology? So that's where head trauma would come in but also things like genetics or exposure to toxins. What's the biology? What's the psychology? How do you think? What was your life growing up? Your development. The social circle, who you hanging out with? If you hang out with people who do bad things ...
Tana Amen: Oh you mean like ... Right. I'm the rule follower.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You are more likely to do bad things, right? So biological, psychological, social, who you hang out with really does matter, right? Then the last one is spiritual which is why are you on the planet? Why do you care? What's your sense of meaning and purpose? Because purposeful people even with a brain injury tend to do better that people who aren't. I'm sorry, I ...
Anthony Davis: No, I was just want to bill them just like you and what you just said. When I look at my life, looking back, it was like I was in a cloud and I got out of the cloud because I was around the gun-toters, the drug pusher, in the whole ... This thug environment, the criminal environment. No proper guidance in the household and I just look at the, "I got out of that cloud," because a lot of my friends didn't get out of that cloud.
Tana Amen: And they're probably paying the price.
Anthony Davis: Some of them paying the price and some are no longer here, or in prison, dysfunctionality all through their lives.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And sport, was it sport that helped you get out or what was it?
Tana Amen: Were you in it even at that time?
Anthony Davis: Look, sport is what got me out of it and due to the fact that my natural ability, but I had a lot of negative negatives pulling on me getting out of it because if you look back based on how I was raised, I shouldn't even be here. I shouldn't be here. If you knew my background you'd admit because I raised by a bunch of sociopathic ignoramuses. That's the kind of environment that I was raised.
Tana Amen: I can totally relate.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. We're going to talk about that in the next podcast. How your environment affects the rest of your life. Stay with us. You're here with us on The Brain Warrior's Way podcast.