In This Episode
It’s Super Bowl Sunday! We’re pleased to present the latest episode of America Dissected, tackling America’s love of what can be a dangerous (and sometimes deadly) sport just in time for the big game. Host Dr. Abdul El-Sayed reflects on his complicated relationship with football, then interviews Garrett Bush, sports commentator and former college football player, who recently went viral over a rant about the sport.
Listen and subscribe to America Dissected wherever you get your podcasts
Tre’vell Anderson: Hey, WAD squad. I know we’re usually dark on Sunday so we can take a news break. Very necessary, but today is Super Bowl Sunday. So the reason I’m in your ears right now is because the latest episode of our Health pod, America Dissected has this really compelling chat we want you to hear. It’s about the dangers of football and our complicated relationship with it. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed talks with Garett Bush, a sports commentator and former college player who recently went viral for his rant about the sport. Take a listen and check out new episodes of America dissected each week wherever you get your podcasts. And we’ll bring you a new episode of What A Day tomorrow.
[sponsor note] [AD BREAK] [music break]
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: The Biden administration will officially end the public health state of emergency for COVID-19. Vaccine manufacturers who made billions on the vaccine are refusing to pay back 1.4 billion for unused vaccines intended for the world’s poorest people. And police in Memphis murdered Tyre Nichols, another defenseless Black man in cold blood. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. Look, I’m just gonna put this out there. I love football, but I hate having to admit that. I loved playing football as a kid, going to games in college and now watching it as an adult. But hey look, I often credit football with some of the most important, wholesome lessons of my life. How to lift people up when they’re down. How to inspire your teammates, how to persevere through pain and challenge, and how to prepare, like really prepare, spend hours in the gym on practice field, watching tape to achieve a goal. There’s no doubt that football has made me a better teammate, a better leader, and a better person. At the same time, I can’t deny that there’s something rotten at the heart of the sport. All sports have a narrative structure. It’s what keeps us coming back. There are winners and losers, underdogs who overcome all odds. Today’s loser can be tomorrow’s champion. Today’s champion will one day fall from glory. That’s true of all sports. But in football, there’s more. On top of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is brutality. Football players put their bodies on the line in ways unlike any other sport in America. There’s real pain involved. And it’s not just injury, which of course, is possible in any sport, but that every single play is about inflicting violence upon your opponent. The whole point of this sport is tackling another player to his knees. And as much as football taught me about how to be a better person, there was always something that appealed to the most carnal aspects of myself. I love football, in part because it was an arena literally in which I wasn’t just allowed to be violent, but I was encouraged to be. And as a teenage boy, there was something about getting to run wild, to take out life’s frustration on the guy in the opposing jersey. But that guy was trying to do the same to me. And you got to wonder whether or not that’s what we should be telling teenage boys that they should do with their angst. There are days that I wonder what the lasting consequences of that might be. I find myself reflecting way too often on the high school drills I put my body through in late summer days that marked the start of the football season. After months off, there was always a day when we’d put our pads back on and start tackling again for the first time. And in order to get us back in shape for it, we’d spend an entire day doing the highest contact drills. One of them involved two players literally laying on their backs with the crowns of their heads touching. One of them would be given the football and when the whistle blew, there was an all out collision as the player without the ball tried to tackle the player with the ball and the player with the ball tried to break that tackle. We’d do these kind of drills all day. The next morning you’d wake up with a splitting headache. We literally called it the hitting headache and everyone thought that was just normal. Our understanding of the long term consequences of those kinds of drills has taken a big leap forward over the past decade as our understanding of the brain has brought the gnarly consequences of CTE into focus with some really gruesome consequences. Several former NFL stars have died by suicide. When Junior Seau, a legendary NFL linebacker, took his life at 43. He shot himself in the chest so that scientists could study his brain. He knew the consequences that a career in football had taken on his brain, and he wanted the world to know them, too. We’ve known about these violent consequences for years, but we push them out of our minds as if to apologize for our favorite spectacle. Then just a few weeks ago, the brutality of football was thrown back into sharp relief. Damar Hamlin, a 24 year old safety for the Buffalo Bills collapsed on the field on a Monday Night Football game after what looked like a routine tackle. He went into cardiac arrest because of an extremely rare injury called commotio cordis, in which the hardest hit at just the wrong place and the wrong moment in its cycle to trigger arrhythmia, a condition in which the heart muscle no longer beats in unison, unable to pump blood to the body and more importantly, the brain, the person collapses, just as Hamlin did. Thankfully, EMTs were able to revive Hamlin, and he’s expected to make a full recovery. But it was a stark reminder that every week for most of the fall and winter, we watch young men destroy their bodies for our entertainment. Billions of dollars are made, the vast majority of which the young men at the heart of the game never see. This weekend, an estimated 100 million Americans are going to watch the Super Bowl. All in, the Super Bowl generates roughly $15 billion dollars in revenue, all for a four hour game and a halftime show. But at what cost? Right after Damar Hamlin’s injury, Garrett Bush, a former college football player and sports commentator, went viral for his incisive analysis of the economics of the sport and the exploitation of the young men at the heart of it.
[clip of Garrett Bush] I’m kind of hot because we do this every freaking time something happen on this field. Everybody want to pivot and act like they well I did heard people talking about, oh, you know, just uh the mental health of the players and yeah, you can die. They don’t even know they could die out here. We sit here talking about this stuff every single time, schedule remakes, how are we going to make it up? What the league feels about it? I don’t give a damn what the league feels about it. Let’s be clear about this. You got to play 3 to 4 years before you even sniff a [?]. So all this heart warming and prayers and condolences, don’t do nothing for that boy’s mom that got to go home, look at her son, and he might need extensive care for the rest of his life. And you know what the NFL will tell you? Well, you know um, you know, we’ll look out for the people like him. No, you won’t. No, you won’t. Let’s talk about the disability policy for the NFL. They moved it from $22,000 a month to $4000. In the last collective bargaining agreement. Did you know that the NFL has a private board that reviews all aspects with their doctors and with their neurologists and their specialists? They can deny benefits even if Social Security deems you to be permanently disabled, the league can come back and then say, you know what the national gov– the government is, uh you know, they’re they’re experts, but let’s take it over so we don’t pay anything out. Only 15% get approved by Social Security. The league says that number should be lower.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: After watching Garrett drop knowledge, I invited him on the show to join me for a conversation. I wanted to think a bit more about why in 2023 we continue to watch football. What is it about this brutal sport that keeps us coming back? Is there a version of football that’s actually ethical, safe? What would need to change? Just a note. This is a subject that inspires a lot of contradictory feelings, and we don’t really get to a single, neat and tidy answer. But the conversation helped me frame my own feelings about the sport. I hope going into Super Bowl Sunday, it’ll help you frame your perspective on it too, because even if you’re just watching the commercials, the NFL is still making a dollar off you. Here’s my conversation with Garrett Bush.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Can you introduce yourself for the tape?
Garrett Bush: Yes. Uh. My name is Garrett Bush. I am currently a host uh for the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show. That’s on YouTube and WKYC TV, Channel three plus. I also work for 92.3 The Fan. I’m a host um of a show called The Barbershops, which is a weekly show on 92 through the Fan WKRK FM here in Cleveland, Ohio. Um. I’m also the host of the Locked On Browns podcast. You find anywhere on your Apple stores or wherever the case may be on YouTube as well.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: We appreciate you coming on the show. Um. You know, and we’re talking uh in the lead up to the Super Bowl about football, football as a public health concept. And, you know, we done a previous episode about football, about youth football in particular um with someone who who’s done a lot of work thinking about the long term consequences of youth football, but not somebody who came to that research with a love of football to begin with. And I want to talk to somebody um who’s played the game, who cares about the game, um who’s, you know, engaged with it in a way that is beyond um research, but but, you know, has been a part of your life for some time. You know, I have to be honest, football’s been a big part of my life, particularly in middle school and high school. So I want to ask you, you know, just to set the stage, what has football done for you?
Garrett Bush: Well, um I mean, I can say what has football not done for me. Um. It’s done and it’s shaped the most part of my entire life. One of the earliest concepts that I had of football was just watching games with my dad. So I always loved the fact that my dad, he would veto my mom on bedtime when it came to like late night games. Right. So usually my mom, you know, ruled with an iron fist. But my dad was the person who says ah I let him stay up and watch late night on the West Coast swings, you know, baseball or whatever. And um one of the biggest things was what I remember coming up is watching on Monday Night Football like that was just the biggest thing, no matter who the team was on. I always wanted to stay up. So football was a big part of like even how me and my dad bonded. I didn’t play football growing up uh until I was at age 15 um because I just I just didn’t like it in terms of playing it. I didn’t know if I wanted to, I I real realized it, they gots way much stuff going on. They got two a days, they got practice. You got to hit people. I’m like, man, I don’t know how I feel about doing this. Now my brothers were hooked on it, so they played at a much younger age than I did. I was like, I can’t do that alright. So I started playing when I was 15 um and I was very, very, very trash. I was garbage um [laughter] like, you know, my family used to tell me the only thing I used to do because I was the biggest kid out there, I used to always have to be pulling my pants up and stuff like that. And I really wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t that aggressive. Um. But eventually, um two years later, I went to high school and, you know, some fans understand this, some people don’t. Sometimes when you got a big guy or kid that’s really athletic, either you peak early or you peak late. And for me, I peaked late. Like I was probably at my peak, probably about 17, 18. And so football gave me an opportunity to go to college, gave me an opportunity to get a full scholarship. Um and it definitely taught me things that I handle today. I always talking about perseverance and, you know, time management stuff, you know, being able to go to class and have to lift weights and doing the study tables and that stuff and being able to study when you’re hurt that your mind is thinking about a game. So all those things help um help me in a way, shape who I am today. And I use some of those skills today. So that’s why I have a very um mixed feelings about when it comes to football, mixed emotions when it comes to whether or not the game is safe to play um and the risk reward factor in playing the game.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, it’s interesting. I was one of those who peaked uh early. Um. I was like, the biggest kid in eighth grade. And then I just started growing [laughter] uh um and uh and you know funny about who you talk to, I was either too slow or too short um to play uh football in college. But I for me, football taught me a ton about teamwork because it really is the truest team sport um you can have the greatest quarterback um and their face will be in the ground if you don’t have a strong offensive line, if you don’t have good receivers, if you don’t have, um you know, good blocking out of your running backs. And so there are other sports that any one player can carry the game. Basketball is like this. Um. Baseball, to some respects are like is like this. You got a good pitcher and a couple of good hitters. You’re gonna have a good baseball team, but football is a true team sport. And you know, all of those other individual characteristics that you talked about, um time management, all of the work that goes into it, the direct translation of effort in practice or effort in the weight room or effort uh in two-a-days into winning games. Like those are things that um there are very few analogs uh in sports or in life that have such a direct translation to performance. And, um you know, for me, football was a huge one and I played other sports. But but there was nothing really quite like football. And I know that, you know, for folks who are in bands and folks who are in other activities, whether acting um that they they talk about it the same way. But football is one of those things that for a lot of um young folks, it really does help mold them from a young age. And at the same time, those trade offs um are real. So, you know, I asked you what football’s done for you. I got to ask you also what football’s done to you.
Garrett Bush: [laugh] Yeah, well yeah, there’s always the other side of the coin. Um. So football has really placed a lot of strain. It’s placed a lot of stress on my body. Um. You know, for me, I think if you were to look at a person and say, this is the representation of a person who never even really played in the NFL, he just played in college. So when you look at my medical history and you look at my medical track record, people will be shocked that I’ve had this many surgeries and I’ve only played at the collegiate level. So, you know, I’ve never played a down in the NFL and I still have these residual effects. Um. So I’ve had over 17 surgeries. Um. I had ACL surgery in my left knee, ACL surgery on my right knee. I’ve had back uh surgery, um I’ve had neck surgery. Um. I undergo three or four procedures each year in order to um kind of burn the nerves in my neck. So I don’t feel them because I got [?] that, you know, aren’t able to be operated on. So I have a pain management doctor, um so I take a bunch of medication. Um. Some of it prohibits me from doing my job. [mumbling indistinct] I can’t be stumbling over my words. I can’t I can’t be sleepy and groggy. But sometimes, you know, depending on what it is, you’re you’re just taking so many, you know, medicines and and different things like that for nerve pain, it kind of dulls you and numbs you. So you kind of have to kind of really force and concentrate on what you actually saying some days. Um. I’ve had surgery on my toe, my calf. So, you know, I’ve had, you know, all of those gambit of of injuries. And football is is, you know, would probably be the main culprit of them. Now, I did play baseball, basketball in uh high school, so I lettered in those those sports, too. So, you know, I played a lot of a lot of games playing basketball on concrete. That wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Uh. But, you know, just doing it and wear and tear all year round. Um. I think football has put a tremendous stress uh on my body. And, you know, as you get older, there’s certain things that I can’t do that other people do, like pickup basketball is something that I always wanted to do. I was always a big fan of playing pickup basketball with my father, and I don’t have kids yet, but by the time I do get to that age, there’s going to be no question whether or not my kids are going to be able to beat me because I just can’t. I won’t play pick up basketball because it’s too great of a risk to be injured again. Um. So, you know, there’s been a bunch of injuries. Um. But I do say that pros will tell you this too, the day that you start playing football with either high school or college, there’s no such thing as being completely 100% healthy. So they put the injury, put out the [?]. So and so going to play. He’s questionable. I think he’s 100%. Anybody will tell you after they cut on you that first time, you are not 100% you just trying to get to the, to the nineties, maybe 92, 93, you can still do your job, but that’s something all athletes go through.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Hmm. So I got to ask you, knowing what you know now, if you were to get to talk to that kid trying to pull up his pants on the football field, would you tell him to play as long as he did?
Garrett Bush: Yeah. Yeah, I would. Sometimes when I’m in interviews and people say, whoa you just told me on one hand you have all these things going on wrong with you, all these complications with your health, why then in the next step, you didn’t even hesitate to say you would play again. Well, for me, like a lot of other people, football was a way for a better life. There’s there’s people who always sacrifice their well-being and their health for a better life. Um. I kind of compare it to people who used to work in um steel mills in the midwest. Um. My grandfather worked in a steel mill um his whole life and he was hurt badly. He was almost almost crippled because um steel fell on his legs. They didn’t have the greatest safety requirements back then. I’ve had um my great grandfather uh lost his arm um buiding the railroad, so he when I my grandfather only had one arm, so those were very difficult jobs back then, um whether you were working in steel mills, whether you were working on sanitation department, whether you were doing manual labor um back then, you did whatever you had to to, you know, make sense, especially in the Black community. You did what you needed to do to survive for your family, provide. You know, my mom has eight brothers and sisters. My dad has ten brothers and sisters. So, you know, just think about the amount of income you needed to feed all those kids so um you did whatever you could and so for me. My parents were always married and they were there. But, you know, they didn’t have what we would call a nest egg to send people to college like I used to ask my mom in the beginning well how I’m going to college? Have you guys started saving? Um. [laugh] They were like, yeah right, you go get a scholarship either academically or you gonna get it athletically. And so from a very young age, I kind of knew that those were my two options. And I just started living my life trying to trying to meet those those goals. Um. You know, football gives me opportunity to to make a living about talking about sports. If I would have never had that aspect of playing football and knowing it from a very intimate level, I wouldn’t be where I am today or possibly going where I’m going tomorrow. Um as I grow and expand. Football was the foundation to that and without that, I don’t have college. I don’t have the relationships I have right now. And I wouldn’t have the ability to, you know, truly do something that you love, which is something that I think is a true blessing for anybody anyway. If you could just, you know, do something that you love every single day, then that’s, you know, you you you’re winning your life. So I would still do it again. [music break]
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: We’ll be back with more with Garrett Bush after this break.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You don’t have kids yet, but let’s say you have a son. And football has given you this um set of opportunities and given your kid a set of opportunities. And your kid says, Daddy, I want to play football. What do you say?
Garrett Bush: Well, I would sit him down and I would talk to him about it. Um. I would talk to him about some of the great things that can come along with football. I would tell them some of the um things that he’s going to have to endure and I’m gonna tell him about some of the things that are reality about football that can happen. Um. You know, most people say they don’t try not to tell their children everything, they need to just be kids. Well, I don’t kind of believe in that. I think, you know, in this world, kids grow up fast and if you’re not the one telling them. Somebody else is telling them whether it’s the game boy, the TV, they friends, they’ll get wherever they want to get from anywhere. So you can’t just stick your head in the sand and say, I’m going to try to shelter them, not let them know. Like, look, you know, I to this day, my body hurts because of certain things I did on the field. You can be seriously hurt playing football. You can be, you know, the things that come along with it. If you don’t hit people the correct way, you can become paralyzed. You can break your arm. You can you know, you can pass out because you run so much. Um. And I would just give him the pros and the cons. But I say, you know, those things are really rare and that’s why they teach you the game in a way. And you get a good coach that teaches you how to tackle. They know when to give you water. They know when they make sure that you look for the signs that you’re okay and they slowly but surely bring you along. I don’t think your kid needs to be playing tackle football at seven or eight. Like it just does you no good. Like I didn’t, I always look at it like this. I didn’t play till I was 15 and I still got a scholarship. And all the other people, if it’s going to be if you’re talented, and it is meant to be. They’ll find you. Right. Um. So you don’t need to be out there since you were five years old, tackling each other, beating your body up. Heck, you can play flag football if you want to. You do seven on seven. But, you know, I would give him the real about what I think about it, and I’d give him the roadmap. But one thing I won’t do, is I won’t deprive him an opportunity to do something while he’s young just because I was scared.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I hear that, um and I appreciate that perspective as well. And I get a sense from what you shared that, you know, the choice to play football uh either as an amateur or as a professional. Um. There are a set of of risks that come with it inherently. And that choice in in so many ways is a function of um the choices we make about protecting folks or hedging against those risks. Right. And you talked about um your your uh own family members and um the risk that they went through and the accidents that they sustained in a workplace. And of course, they um had unions. Right. Unions uh were built out of those industries because of the inherent risk of doing work in a steel mill or doing work on a railroad. And and in some respects, you know, the challenge with football is that while the NFL players have a union, um the union hasn’t done everything that it’s supposed to, to protect those players against the risk. I want to focus in here on on the Damar Hamlin injury um and your reflections following that injury that went viral. Uh. What do you think resonated so much about them um and what are the kinds of things that um that that we need to do to protect football players bigger picture um in the same ways that, you know, unions for steelworkers uh protected so much of the opportunity for folks who worked in that field?
Garrett Bush: Well, firstly, I think it resonated with people. I would call it the perfect storm. So the game was on a monday night. Um. It was a game between the Bills and the Bengals, um and both of those teams were are really good um they’re they’re fighting for uh playoff positioning and they’re just, you know, two good quarterbacks, two marquee names. So everybody is watching that game. Everybody is, you know, sitting there and they’re glued in. So, you know, when the injury happens, I think the reason why it took kind of storm was we had never seen somebody like die on the field though. Like he had to be resuscitated twice. And then on top of that, they called the game. So there was a bunch of different things that happened that really gave a lot of uh gasoline to kind of spread the little smoldering fire underneath of what a lot of people were talking about. And I think one of the reasons it also resonated is because when you wa– looking at the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show, right before that clip, we had [?] on and she was talking about how the fact that she’s um, she knew Damar Hamlin’s um mother and she knew that back in the day, um his her mother cleaned houses and babysat and did extra jobs and cleaned offices and cleaned people’s houses so that he can have a better chance to get going at a uh private school, which was much better. He grew up in a tough neighborhood. A lot of his friends and family had died because of gang violence and just the neighborhood was being so tough. So she scraped and scrounged and did whatever she could to get him there, and um she was just really proud of it. Went to the university of Pitt, he decided to stay close to home uh to be next to her uh in her his little brother. His father was already incarcerated um for a long time, long period during his adolescence. So for me, I think I was just infuriated um because, you know, everybody you just was talking about, you know, why the NFL had done such a great job and, you know, salute to the first responders. And and I have the greatest utmost respect for first responders. They do their job right. But my problem is that it became this who can who can be the most solemn and who can virtue signal the most. Like everybody’s. Oh, yeah. I just you know, right now the best thing that we can do is just pray and just our thoughts and wishes. And I just it was just so disingenuous. And it still is disingenuous because. They’ll they’ll talk about all those things. But if you start talking about guaranteed contracts, all of a sudden it’s, Oh, we don’t have the money for that. Oh, well, that’s not it’s no way we could pay guaranteed contracts. There’s no way we can. Well, that we can’t really. The NFL has everybody kind of in their pocket a little bit. Everybody is an affiliate of the NFL. And most of the times people that’s on the media and people that’s talking will never, ever, ever say a bad word about the NFL because most of the people commentating are either former players and or guys that were at the networks with the suits who are getting the propaganda. So they’re not going to say anything about this. And my what I was bringing to the table was, these guys are billionaires. We shouldn’t be praising them because they got first responders out there on time. What if you was really worried about that, why would you not be worried about his long term care after that? Because the reality of the situation is if he doesn’t make the team next year, he doesn’t get a pension. You know, if he doesn’t get a pension, that means he don’t have insurance. If he don’t got insurance, how is he going to get insurance moving forward? And he already has a preexisting condition of a heart issue. And we’ve seen it all over the country. So–
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Right.
Garrett Bush: My thing is, the NFL, there should be way more that they’re doing in order to meet these players at a certain level, because the reality of the situation is everybody thinks the players are making this amount of money up here because the league projects that. But the reality is that most players make under the iceberg, um under the you know, under the water, where you see the large group of people um that are making 200,000, 300,000. These guys aren’t making the millions and have just as many responsibilities just as those those guys at the top.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. Aside from guaranteeing contracts and pensions, what are some of the other things that the NFL needs to do to take seriously the well-being of its players, both while they’re playing, but then certainly afterwards?
Garrett Bush: Well, first of all, they can they can stop making people jump through thousands of hoops in order to get CTE, you know, disabilities file. So the league I think it was um 2014. I think, 2013 maybe. So I think it’s the ten year anniversary or whatever. So the league was sued by the Players Association and the players um for CTE. Um. They said that the NFL knew that CTE was something that would be um part of football and it was debilitating as players got old, but they covered it up and never gave them information. The league lost that settlement um it was upwards of $700 $800 million dollars. Um. It could have been upwards of a billion. But the players association as always caved. Um. But now to get any of that CTE money, to get any disability or to be deemed disabled. Now, the NFL has gone to the lengths of saying. You have to be diagnosed by your doctor. And then you got to go before a certified board of handpicked people that the NFL deems. And we’ll let you know if you’re disabled. So they used to go by the fact that they used to just trust the Social Security disability to lead them and guide them on whether or not these individuals should be uh deemed uh disabled. Now, you have to go through a panel or board and you can be denied for CTE or disability based on what their panel says and it’s regardless of Social Security, it could say you’re disabled. They can override that. Your doctor could say it’s that you’re disabled, they can override that too. So what ends up happening is you get a lot of people who are suffering, whether they have um symptoms of CTE, um suicidal mood swings, bipolar, violence, drinking, um you know, just all of those things continue on as you have CTE and they can’t even get treatment.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You made a point about where most of the players in the NFL actually are. Right. We hear about the multimillion dollar contracts. But but those are the tip of the iceberg. And most of these guys will matriculate into the NFL. They’ll play three or four years making less than $1,000,000 a year. And then because their whole life was football and they may not even have graduated college, it becomes really, really difficult for them after the fact. Plus, they’re dealing with all the medical consequences. What happens to some of these players that we don’t really pay attention to who never quite make it? Where do they go? What do they do? What does their life look like after three or four years in the league?
Garrett Bush: Well, if you’re smart. Um. Maybe you’ve had infrastructure. Maybe you’ve had some of that. Maybe you’ve learned how to, you know, keep your money. Maybe you’ve learned how to, you know, use your money wisely. But I’ve always said that this is a this is a concerted effort on the part of the NCAA as well as the NFL to keep wages down. And so the way the game is set up, it makes people slot these these kids in a way where they maximize how well they’re going to play, they maximize what they can get out of them for multiple different places. The NCAA gets paid, Nike gets paid, Adidas gets paid, the pros get paid, the owners get paid, and the people who are actually doing it, there’s maybe the top of the iceberg where the quarterback selections or a quarterback, maybe defensive end or receiver, those guys make it to second pick contracts. The rest of them, they’re just living check to check. They’re just trying to make it just like you and me trying to get to that second deal.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I want to step back, right, because all of this, every piece of this very exploitative system that has young men putting their bodies on the line, potentially at risk of deadly injuries and long term consequences. All of this is driven because we can’t stop watching? Right. So what is it about football that leaves us spending billions of dollars? Why do you think we’re so hooked to this sport?
Garrett Bush: Well, when when we talk about the American dream and like Manifest Destiny and the American way. What we’re talking about is this thing, this inherit property, that America is the best. We’re the strongest. We’re the most powerful. We’ll go through hell or high water to get it done. America is strong. We’re masculine. And we take we don’t take no prisoners. All of that it just a bravado. All of that is something you’ve been taught from the day you was born. Hey, if you cry too much hey stop crying so much. You know you’re a boy, girls cry. Boys don’t. Right? [laugh] You know, if you’re a guy and you don’t identify with certain things, right? They’re like mm. I don’t know, if you soft spoken, they call you a beta male. Oh, he’s a beta. You know what I’m saying? Does he is he a really a alpha male, any command, the the mind and the energy of a room. And all of that is just it’s all it is, is just is this thing, this bravado America has. And so when we talk about our past time, when we talk about our sports, it’s a direct mirror on the way we view society and ourselves. It’s been going on for years. Back in the days of the Romans, it was the gladiators who, you know, would go out there and and they would fight to the death and and the gla– the gladiator, who was a lower ranking individual, usually was a slave. Sometimes he could have been a person um who who was just basically a criminal or a mercenary. But what people loved was the fact that you did see those slaves and mercenaries and people that were disenfranchized fight their way up the top, fight their way up the chain. So when you talk about the story, that’s what a feel good story comes from. It’s like, wow, look at this underdog. He was a slave for half his life. The family got took away from him. Now he’s in a in a gladiator arena, beating champions and thieves and lions and all kind of stuff we put in front of him. And he’s won ten in a row. We don’t see that that guy is crushed and his family ain’t never coming back. And he’s he’s damaged inside and he’s hurt. We don’t see that. All we see is we want entertain. This is what it is. And so when you look at football, it’s the it’s the next best version of that. It’s just it’s just part of the American fabric at this point.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What I hear you saying is that football takes some of the most egregious narratives that we tell ourselves about who we are as a country. And it puts it on the field every Sunday. People get to watch folks pushed to the max, hurting each other or getting hurt. And the violence is almost the point. Right. And it plays out some of the I mean I hate to say it, but like weird sort of machismo fantasies about around which American identity um is is born. And, you know, it’s as you say that and you think about it, you know, you really do sort of recognize so many of the worst narratives uh about who belongs here, about what America is, and about uh what we want to play out, played out on the field. And so I guess, you know, I got to I got to ask you, you know, thinking through that and the point that you made in particular about the disenfranchized, you know, both you and I played football and um I think both you and I could identify some of the things that it taught us. And at the same time, you know, when you sort of hear it told like that, you got to ask, did it tell us the best things about ourselves? Right. I mean, it’s it’s interesting, right? Because on the one hand, I loved playing football because it was one of those places where I could take out any aggression I had and nobody told me it was wrong. Everybody told me, in fact, that that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. You go hit that guy as hard as you possibly can. Um. And I, you know, I don’t know that as a young man, that was like the best thing to be taught. Right? And I and I like I in some respects, I can identify that it it helped me work out a lot of those things. But at the same time, I kind of wish somebody would have sat down and said, hey Abdul like if you’re feeling these kind of emotions, we probably should work through it together? We probably talk about it like, why do you feel this kind of way? And what’s a what’s a productive use of your time and energy if you feel that kind of conflict? Right. And so I guess I, you know, on that side, like I think about it, I’m out there um hitting somebody, trying to hit them harder than than they hit me, um recognizing that both of us are at risk of injury, all because we got to tell ourselves that we’re stronger, faster, more powerful, and, you know, let alone and like in our own lives it has destructive consequences, let alone what that tells us about where our country does. Right? You think about all the wars that we fight abroad, um all of the the sordid history of oppressing other people in the name of this American idea. Right. Whether it was, quote, “Manifest Destiny” and destroying uh Native Americans or it was um the the transatlantic slave trade where, you know, folks who, quote, “founded this country” uh on the backs of of native folks that they destroyed, um then uh captured people, enslaved them and had them work their fields um because they thought it was their right. Right. And all of this, like a lot of these narratives you kind of see echoed in the ethos of football. Um. So I got to ask you, like, is there a productive way to do football that, um you know, beyond even the injury point that doesn’t reify and play out a lot of these narratives that we can identify as being so harmful, both for individuals who play, but then also for what we tell ourselves our country ought to be?
Garrett Bush: Well, that’s a hard thing. I’ll try to unpack that um as much as I can. But I do think. Could they separate those two? Sure. You know, the ethos and the all of the doctrines that come with the American identity, could you take that and separate it from football? You could, But then you would end up with the football that wasn’t as popular. You’d have to go back to the Howard Cosell football. Those weren’t interesting enough, right? To for for football to get where it got people got to realize in this country, you know, cycling was huge um in the beginning. Boxing was huge. Baseball was America’s pastime. You know, the old radios and guys sitting around listening to radio and stuff like that. Um. Football was wasn’t the darling and mega, you know, sports business that it is today. They had to do a lot of things to get it there, starting with anti-trust laws. They had to get it there with with tax exemption to even grow it to that level. And so when you talk about, you know, how is it that we go about figuring out how to separate that from the American dream and all the rules, different things like that, I don’t think it’s, it’s possible, but it’s very difficult. Case in point. You know, they’re so good at at weaving and and tapestry and putting things together about narratives and about collective identity. That’s why it’s so powerful when they say salute to service. We going, we gonna have a salute to service. We going to watch camouflage all the whole month of this month of November. We’re going to have new jersey’s. We got the camouflage gear. Army comes out. The jets fly over every single Sunday. Everybody’s up for the anthem with their flags. See, what a lot of people don’t understand is, they charge the the Defense Department for that. The Air Force, the Navy, all those people get charged to advertise. Right. And people would never think they was like, oh, this is such a nice thing that the league is doing. No, no, no. What it is, is trying to gain a foothold in a place and an organization and a group of people that they know have diehard principles. When you talk about a veteran communicating with another veteran, they have nothing but the utmost loyalty and respect. So if you’re a marketing machine, the best thing you can do is indoctrinate yourself and stand besides people that have loyal loyalty, has some sort of integrity that are true, hard workers. They do the same thing with Breast Care Awareness Month. They realize that, hey, some of our athletes are are idiots and they’re getting into too many domestic violences. They’re getting into way too many different things outside with women. What way can we can we bring back some of our fan base that happen to be women? Well, like we always say, if I don’t got cancer, we are all touched by somebody who has cancer. Everybody. It doesn’t matter if I got it, but, you know an aunt, you know a cousin, you know a sister, you know a neighbor, you know, you know a great grandmother. You’ve been touched by it. So what better way to indoctrinate people is to say, we’re going to wear pink, We’re going to salute pink all that whole month. Right. So it shows women in virtue signal says, hey, listen, we’re here for you. We understand your plight in the league and the NFL cares. They also get they also get advertising dollars that they have to pay to the NFL to do that. So what happens is when you’re doing when you when you mix in politics, religion, hope, uh morals and social norms. And you mix it all in with a great game and and a competitive game and a game where each year your team could be good. Jaguars weren’t no good. Guess what, they did good this year, right? It’s year to year [?] another team. So every year you even think your team’s going to win. Well, you put that all together. That is a very powerful marketing plan and it’s just it’s tough to to debunk or hit on all of these different things because people are just so enthralled because they’re doing it on multiple levels.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, I want to ask you right, because you talk a little bit about the sort of intermixing of narrative and narratives that, you know, not all of us like uh or agree with, um with the power of, you know, the narratives that come out of any given game. You know, this this week, this team could win, this other team could win. Who’s going to make the playoffs? Who’s going to win the Super Bowl? What’s going to happen next year with this player that I happen to like and follow? One of the things that you know I think is so powerful and a testament to what you you shared and sort of brings us back to where we started is the fact that the league has has weathered now several uh crises, controversies um around health, but also around around racial justice. You know, you think about um Colin Kaepernick taking a knee and the way that the the the league, in effect, drummed him out. You think um about the CTE controversy that’s ongoing uh in the way that the league tried to use race um to argue that some people were not as intelligent to begin with um and therefore should not be entitled to corrective action because of the CTE they sustained playing the game. The leagues weathered all that. And yet. There was something about the Damar Hamlin injury that I think brought it front and center again, that this is a very dangerous game and that all of us are entertaining ourselves and the league is making billions of dollars hand over fist at the risk of young men, many of whom come from underserved uh backgrounds. Where do you think the league goes from here? Do you think the league can weather this? Do you think this will change any of the narrative about about football and, you know, thinking think about it. We’re all about to sit down and watch the Super Bowl. What should we have in the back of our minds um about that injury and about what that means for this sport that, you know, we are participating in uh as viewers?
Garrett Bush: Well, I think where the league goes forward is they continue to deflect. Just like most politicians, when they you know they do it, they even do such a good job of stopping people like me from saying anything. Right. When I came in to radio and I wanted to do my first um first radio shows or whatever, one of my first radio shows was about how the NCAA is not it’s not I can’t compare it to slavery, but a story of sharecropping. Um. That was my first show and I think my second show we we talked about the fact that, you know, you know with Kaepernick. He was taking a knee and everybody and their mom was like, Oh, he’s disrespecting the flag, disrespecting the flag and see our troops, disrespecting the flag. And my second show was, well, look. You guys that are that are so, uh you know, upset about the flag and disrespected in the [?]. I said, you guys are liars because at the time, the American flag flies right by the Confederate flag at every SCC stadium in the Southeastern Conference. And that Confederate flag waves at all of your state capitols right underneath the United States flag. So you meaning to tell me a guy who who’s sitting down, you know, peacefully protesting police brutality for African-Americans, he’s the traitor? He’s the treasonous guy? But whole institutions, readily wave a flag that was waved in the battlefield killing union soldiers. Literally treasonous people. These, the definition of treason. Right? And so you you fly that and you say, well, it’s all about [?] it’s all about state history and and Southern pride. Why would you even want to be pride or prideful about anything that happened in the South back then? Right. So after you posed that question they’re like err. Who’s this guy? Who’s this kid? Cause you know what they tell you. Hey. I heard so many people. If you want to go far in this business, you don’t talk about religion, you don’t talk about money, and you don’t talk about politics. And then I came in and said, you can’t talk about the NFL without money, religion, and the politics. That’s what the league is made of so what are you talk, so they get you to think I may never get to the ESPNs or Fox News desk. I’m a just play my role and I’m going to shut up and play it and toe it like this. And maybe I can just look out for myself because I don’t feel like I can make some sort of change. They threaten you with that, and if you’re the only voice, you’re one voice. Eventually you’ll go away. Right. But with the Damar Hamlin situation, I think it resonated so much was it wasn’t the fact that it went viral because of what I said. I think I’ve said more elaborate things or, you know, frankly, more important things in my life. However, it was the NFL players, the current players who took it and ran with it. And that tells me something. That tells me the players association ain’t doing their job. That tells me that they’ve been cashing checks all along, not looking out there for the best interests of their constituents. And it also shows me that a lot of these people either don’t know, players don’t know what’s in their collective bargaining agreement or better yet, or even more more alarming is that they are they feel a sense of that they can’t rock the boat. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to say anything and mess stuff up. And so when all those players took it and ran with it, it validated what I was saying and validated the sentiment. Um. It wasn’t necessarily something that was that was the shot heard around the world. But what it what it did, it showed that other players feel like this is something that’s concerning to them and that’s something that they don’t agree with that they want to take a look at.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. Do you think the league is going to make any changes?
Garrett Bush: Um. They’ll give Damar, Damar Hamlin his money. They’ll probably, if it was me and I was a fixer, I would tell them listen, I would come up and have a press conference and say, Look, you know, Damar, you know, we’re so ecstatic for him to be back. And what we’re going to do is the Buffalo Bills is going to guarantee that no matter what, he’ll get the remainder of his contract with the Buffalo Bills, no matter what it is, we’ll reevaluate that. And then I’m also going to let him know that the rule says you get insurance for five years after you’ve done then you have to re re-up. Well, we’re going to do a Buffalo Bills, we’re going to make sure that he has a permanent insurance from now until when he touches the grave. We’ll make sure that he has health insurance for that. And, you know, I just think this is important for us to do. And I think it’s something that, you know, that our players deserve. Now, the Buffalo Bills did that. The story goes away, right? For them, it goes away. The problem is now you’ve set a precedent.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Right.
Garrett Bush: Now the precedent is, well, Jerry Jones, that kid tore his ACL. Are you going to make sure he has insurance? Well, that kid over there, neck injury. You know, make sure [?] is going to make sure uh he has uh health care, he going to therapy. So then it puts in a point where now other owners is like man you out here speaking for our money, you’re in my pockets right now. I we didn’t agree with that. Right. We come we are a unified group. We believe in collective bargaining and you just went off and did some one off. I don’t think in a long term that the league will do it, which is very unwise. Um. Because my thing is, when you look at this, we talked about it and going back a little bit before. Football attendance is down. Football. You know, football uh participation is down. Um. You look at it from all different age groups. Teams that used to be division one have to drop down because they don’t have the amount of boys. You look at soccer programs on the rise, you look at other things. Basketball. There’s a lot of other things that people are playing besides football. The CTE thing is the scariest thing in the world because right now they can’t test for CTE unless you die and they need your intact brain to do so. They found 99% of the brains that they’ve received from those uh players. 99.9% of those guys had CTE and which is a devastating uh you know, basically that statistic says it all. Now, you can’t test for it now, but what if within three or four years you could test for it and you could test at all different levels and you’re able to take a test and a doctor come back and say you already have stage one CTE. [pause] And guess what? You’ve got a choice to make. And now if you don’t have that, that could possibly end your could possibly end your career and could probably end everything. So if I was the league, what I would do, I would come out and give them insurance now. In in lieu, before that happens. So you could always say, well, we knew this game was dangerous. We knew it was a very dangerous sport. However, um we gonna make right by y’all, we’re going to make sure that we give you health care continuing on. It doesn’t have to be something crazy. They could even start by giving something like VA benefits because we know VA benefits is not that crazy, right? They’re getting to work on their stuff, too. But I think that if they came out and did that. I think people would would definitely put this injury thing in the back of their rearview.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Our guest today was Garrett Bush. He’s the host of the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show, The Barbershop, and the Locked On Browns podcast. And we’re not going to hold it against him that he’s from the state of Ohio. Garrett, thank you so much.
Garrett Bush: Yep.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: As usual. Here’s what I’m watching right now.
[clip of unspecified news reporter] The US COVID-19 emergency declarations finally have an end date. The Biden administration says it will extend both the national and public health emergencies only until May 11th.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s right. The Biden administration plans to end the COVID 19 state of emergency that all have existed for more than three years in May. On the one hand, emergency implies that a problem is newly emergent, and it’s hard to call anything that’s lasted for three years an emergency. On the other, so much of the COVID era investments in public health and health care hinge upon that state of emergency. And stepping back for a second. It’s a full on indictment of our health care and public health systems that you need a, quote, “emergency” to be able to provide people vaccines, testing, and treatment that is free at the point of care. And that’s what I’m worried about. Even if you have good insurance, you’ll likely have to pay co-pays for PCR testing and treatment and those free tests the government was sending to our homes. Those will end, too, for Medicare recipients, seniors with the highest risk of COVID death. Some COVID treatments may require copays, too, but uninsured folks, that’s who I worry about most. Vaccine manufacturers are already planning to jack up the price of their vaccines to up to $130 a pop for Moderna, and that’s unaffordable for the uninsured. And there are about to be a lot more uninsured folks. The public health emergency kept many state operated Medicaid programs from booting folks off their insurance. With that emergency over, they’ll be forced off now. But there are also things we’re not thinking about, like SNAP, the Public Benefit Food Program. Throughout the pandemic, SNAP beneficiaries have gotten an added boost, allowing them to buy more food for their families. That’s ending this month in the midst of inflation that has raised the price of eggs up 60% and the ongoing risk of a recession. Make no mistake, COVID itself isn’t over. It’s hard to say that’s something that’s taking nearly 400 lives a day could be. And so ending the emergency seems a bit premature, and it’s definitely more about political pressure than public health. But beyond that, the fact that we’ve required a declaration of emergency to provide people basic health care, basic access to healthy food and better security says a lot about the pre-COVID normal we’re about to go back to. Fixing that has to be the primary goal. Now, remember what I just said about vaccine manufacturers raising their prices after the emergency ends? Well, it’s not just you and I, the taxpayers who funded the research that created their vaccines, who they’re trying to nickel and dime, according to a report from The New York Times, GAVI, the nonprofit behind the ill fated COVAX plan to vaccinate the lowest income people in the world, is out $1.4 billion dollars for vaccines that were never actually given. The plan of course was to contract the drug companies for supply that COVAX would then deliver, as global demand for vaccines waned with misinformation, many of these doses never made it to where they were supposed to go. But that hasn’t stopped the companies, including Moderna, Novavax, and Johnson and Johnson from trying to keep the payments. But here’s the thing. This wasn’t just any 1.4 billion with a B dollars. It was money intended to protect the health and well-being of the poorest people in the world. That money, even if it’s not being spent on COVID vaccines, could still benefit those people, but not if it’s sitting in corporate back pockets. The greed. Last week, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells laid to rest their son Tyre Nichols, who was murdered, beaten to death by Memphis police. Tyre was remembered as a kind soul, an avid skateboarder and a loving son. He was murdered in a routine traffic stop in a murder that was being targeted by Memphis’s quote, “Scorpion Unit”. Video released by Memphis PD showed officers taking turns beating him with an ASP baton, punching and kicking him and tasing him. Even EMTs stood by for 19 minutes as Nichols lay beaten and bloodied. Five officers directly involved with Nichols murder have been relieved of duty and charged almost immediately. Two more have since been relieved. But the murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police has reignited a conversation about the brutality of policing in America. One issue is the so-called Scorpion unit that committed the murder, cartoonishly named for specifically tasked with aggressively policing high crime neighborhoods in Memphis. The thesis that underlies units like these that often measure their progress on the number of stops or arrests they commit, is that that kind of activity is a deterrent. But the numbers don’t add up. These units just end up hassling a bunch of folks who are now both victims of crime and aggressive policing. And that’s when they don’t end up killing defenseless drivers, just trying to get home for the night. Memphis disbanded the Scorpion unit, but I hope that this serves as a lesson for other communities who think that standing up police units named after deadly insects or animals that terrorize high crime neighborhoods is a good idea. Maybe instead of pumping yet more money into putting war material onto streets, we could invest in improving the mental health and well-being of our communities and the folks tasked with upholding public safety. Because one thing is clear, the cops who murdered Tyre Nichols had long since lost their humanity. That’s it for today. On your way out, don’t forget to rate and review. It goes a long way. Also, if you love the show and want to rep us, I hope you’ll drop by the Crooked store for some America Dissected merch. We’ve got our logo mugs and t-shirts, our science always wins sweatshirts and dad caps are available too. [music break] America Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Our associate producers are Tara Terpstra and Emma Illic-Frank. Vasilis Fotopoulos mixes and masters the show. Production support from Ari Schwartz and Ines Maza. Our theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Leo Duran , Sarah Geismer, Sandy Girard, Michael Martinez and me. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening. [music break] This show is for general information and entertainment purposes only. It’s not intended to provide specific health care or medical advice and should not be construed as providing health care or medical advice. Please consult your physician with any questions related to your own health. The views expressed in this podcast reflect those of the host and his guests and do not necessarily represent the view and opinions of Wayne County, Michigan, or its Department of Health, Human and Veterans Services.