Archive for the ‘In the Media’ Category

Truth Matters

Thursday morning, I saw that James Frey, author of bestselling A Million Little Pieces, and his publisher were appearing on Oprah. I told my staff if she is still supporting him, I’m going to write her a letter.

My concerns were allayed from the opening bell. With Oprah’s first salvo, Frey seemed befuddled and dazed. He had no defense. He threw no counter punches except a lame response to her question, "Why didn’t you have it published as fiction?" He said meekly and unconvincingly, "I still consider it a memoir."

It’s not accurate to say it’s based on a true story. It’s more like inspired by his experience. His story seems contrived from the very beginning.

First, there’s the improbable plane ride. Then, there’s an implausible car trip with his parents to the rehab center, drinking all the way. Next, there’s a lack of supervision at the rehab center (which is considered the best in the world), a brief severe episode of DT’s (Not just seeing animals – but they were talking to him. DTs are not likely at his age and they occur with delirium and require aggressive medical treatment), treatment with both Librium and Valium (These are both long-acting benzodiazepines – an irrational and potentially dangerous combination), a double root canal without anesthesia, etc.

As Richard Cohen, one of Oprah’s guests and a Washington Post columnist, said, "The book doesn’t pass the smell test … How’d this guy get on an airplane? I can’t get on with a third piece of luggage."

How do you define character, class and leadership? It’s simple: Oprah Winfrey. Yesterday we were treated to a tour de force. It was a course in dealing with mistakes, betrayal and confrontation in one hour.

Oprah was apologetic and humble, but also strong and determined. She accepted responsibility for her mistake. She showed no defensiveness, and she demurred when complimented for the way she had handled the whole situation. She was very clear not just with what she thought about all the gross deceptions and manipulation but also about her feelings. When the publisher said to her "I think this whole experience is very sad. It’s very sad for you. It’s very sad for us." Oprah replied, "It’s not sad for me. It’s embarrassing and disappointing for me."

We’re not embarrassed. We’re proud and glad that we have at least one model we can point to and say, "That’s how you do it."

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Follow the Money

(If you haven’t read yesterday’s blog, A Million Little Lies, start here.)

A Million Little Pieces author James Frey appeared on Larry King Live Wednesday evening, 1-11-06, to answer questions raised about the authenticity of his memoir. Most strikingly, he was not at all like Trudeau, who in defense of challenges against his book, ‘Natural Cures,’ came across to me like a used car salesman. Frey was subdued and somewhat anxious appearing. He spent most of the interview looking down at the table.

He readily admitted to changing some of the "facts" in his life story but defended it saying only 18 of 432 pages have information being disputed and that a memoir is supposed to be a "subjective" recollection of one’s life.

He said several times that the book reflects the essential truth of his life and that it’s supposed to be the story of his intensive rehab treatment of alcohol and drug addiction, which he says no one disputes.

The most enlightening information that came out of the interview is that he had originally sent his book to several publishing companies as fiction, and it was rejected. It was the eventual publisher (Random House) that made the decision to publish it as a memoir. In the interview, he came across as a person who got in over his head – especially after he received a call from Oprah that forever changed his life and propelled him into the limelight.

In a dramatic finale, just as the program was ending, Larry King announced that they were going past their time limit because Oprah was on the phone. She had not yet made any public comments about all the controversy. She was supportive of the author and his story. She described the controversy as "much ado about nothing." She only took issue with the publisher who she relies on to "define the category the book falls into and the authenticity."

Would the book have been No. 1 if it had been published as fiction? My guess is no. ‘Pieces’ has sold over 3.5 million copies and the sequel, My Life as Leonard, is already up to No. 6. Ironically, Memoirs of a Geisha, currently No. 2, is fiction.

You do the math – millions of books at $20 each, a movie produced by Brad Pitt – we’re talking big bucks.

Frey seemed shaken by all the controversy. He said that they added a disclaimer to his second book – mainly about his supposed time in prison. He seemed sincere when he said he would never again write about himself, less convincing that he had no negative feelings or ill will toward TheSmokingGun.com.

I ended up not feeling negatively toward him but again at the mercy of big business – the publishing house. I believe Oprah is sincere in her support of the author, and the book offers hope. But I wonder about her closing description of a 10-year-old boy already tormented by drugs, alcohol and alienation. According to numerous reports on TheSmokingGun.com, he seemed like a normal teenager. Was his addictive illness really so severe that his recovery was heroic? To patients with severe addiction, 6 weeks in rehab rarely leads to a normal life. Relapses are the rule. (more on addictions)

Addiction is about denial and lack of control. A Million Little Pieces seems to be about, "where’s the money?".

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A Million Little Lies

Or a thousand little lies, or a hundred, or …

When do you stop counting and begin to doubt the truthfulness of what a person says? I have seen patients over the years who fabricate so much they don’t know what the truth is.

On 1-10-06 the major news services reported a story questioning the authenticity of James Frey’s bestseller, A Million Little Pieces, currently No. 1 on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list.

The front page headline on the Life section in USA Today reads "Smoking Gun casts doubt on Frey’s ‘Pieces.’" TheSmokingGun.com’s article is entitled "The man who conned Oprah."

A Million Little Pieces (2003) is James Frey’s account of his six weeks of intensive rehab treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Sales have soared to over 3.5 million copies after Oprah selected it one of her book club recommendations.

In his book Frey, 36, describes his criminal past that was associated with his alcohol and drug abuse. One example of distorting the facts, verified by both USA TODAY and TheSmokingGun.com, is that he described striking a cop with his car while drunk in 1992. He said his actions resulted in a melee. Interviews with the arresting officer, review of the legal documents, and verification by the local Ohio prosecutor all reveal that he was "polite, cooperative and quickly posted bond." Not quite a "mesmerizing story" as described on Oprah.com.

But is it necessary that all the facts be true? Is it not still a powerful story of addiction and recovery? There is no doubt that his book has inspired many people, and many have probably used it to help in their own recovery. So what difference does it make? Isn’t it just another example of sour grapes by Smoking Gun and "Oh goody, another controversy!" by the media?

Certainly exaggerating or embellishing to gild the lily is not as significant as Trudeau making up all kinds of crap in his book, "Natural Cures ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About." My biggest problem is once it is shown there are clear distortions of the facts, I’m left asking myself, "What part is true?" and "Why did he lie?"

The most obvious reason a person lies is to avoid repercussions or to profit in some positive way. Was it his life story that moved Oprah to tears, or was it his creative story telling?

A person who habitually lies to deceive and profit has at least some sociopath tendencies. Another reason a person habitually lies or makes up stories (fabrications) relates more to ADHD or Bipolar disorder. The truth is often routine, even boring. Some kids, teens or even adults who need more excitement realize that embellishing the story stirs up more excitement and is a natural stimulant for them. Embellishment can become a habit and in extreme cases, becomes a way of life.

What motivated James Frey? We don’t know, but I tell my patients the best way to understand behavior is to look at its consequences. In USA TODAY, 1-11-06, A Million Little Pieces was not only the top selling current book but also more than double the 2nd ranked book. Virtue has its own reward, but you may not be able to put it in the bank.

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Who Panicked … Rigoberto Alpizar or the air marshals?

It’s frustrating trying to figure out what happened in the Miami airport this Wednesday. For the first time in U.S. history, a passenger was gunned down on the jetway after he abruptly left the plane just before takeoff.

At first it seemed tragically clear cut. He had Bipolar disorder, was off his meds, and he said he had a bomb. He apparently refused to comply when the air marshals ordered him to the ground. He then reached into his backpack and the air marshals had no other option than to shoot.

Questions like couldn’t they have just wounded him or physically subdued him or used a taser gun have been fairly well answered as too risky, not safe enough or not decisive enough. The marshals did what they were trained to do.

So why isn’t that the end of the story? In today’s USA Today, it was reported that after having initially taken his seat on the plane next to his wife, he suddenly jumped up and ran down the aisle flailing his arms. A flight attendant reportedly told him he couldn’t get off the plane – to which he said, “I have a bomb.” But also on today’s AP wire, two passengers close to the exchange between him and the flight attendant said emphatically they never heard the word bomb.

Did someone misunderstand what he was saying? His wife was running up the aisle saying he’s Bipolar and off his meds, although one passenger reported that the wife was speaking Spanish, saying, “He’s sick. He has a problem.”

Why did he feel he had to get off the plane? The most common explanation would be that he was having a panic attack – very common in individuals with Bipolar disorder.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any information from the wife about what he was saying. There are reports today that in the airport, before boarding the plane, he seemed agitated and was singing “Go Down Moses” as his wife tried to calm him. It was also reported by a passenger near him on the plane that he seemed very restless and suddenly said he had to get off.

Bipolar disorder, when not controlled, can lead to a feeling of agitation that makes it very difficult to sit still. It can also produce delusional ideas or hallucinations that direct a person to flee.

Adding to the tragedy and confusion are several reports about what a nice, gentle person he was. He was well liked at work and in his Orlando neighborhood. He and his wife had been married over 18 years and had just returned from a missionary trip to Ecuador where Mr. Alpizar had served as a translator for a group of dentists and ophthalmologists offering their services to poor communities.

Assuming he did say he had a bomb – what would have been his motivation? Was he using that as a threat so they would let him off the plane? We obviously need more information. But mostly, we can’t just say – “He was Bipolar and that explains his crazy behavior.”

Why was he allowed to board the plane in the first place? Why didn’t his wife talk to someone and try to get help for him instead of boarding the plane? Hopefully, we’ll get some answers soon. I’m eager to hear your opinions on this story.

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What Gets *You* Agitated?

During the month since my last blog, there have been several issues that were interesting or irritating to me. But none *inspired* me to write an article. It finally occurred to me to ask for suggestions.

What issues are you passionate about that I can address through the blog? Please email me your suggestions at info@askdrjones.com (put "Blog Topic" in the subject line). O.K. — there were a few things that got me agitated —

Kevin Trudeau’s bestseller, Natural Cures – "They" Don’t Want You To Know About. 

Give me a break. If we could dig up the writers of our constitution and show them this book, they would unanimously agree on a new amendment. "You can’t publish crap as medical science." There is *some* truth to *some* of what Trudeau writes, but it seemed to me that he has had an ax to grind since he suffered from something like panic disorder, and the medical treatment he sought was not helpful. Much of what he asserts as medical fact has no scientific basis. Mostly he directs people to his website (naturalcures.com), "the premier information source for all your health needs." You can have 24/7 access to his secret, magic treatments … for $9.95 a month or the bargain deal lifetime membership, which is only $499. Trudeau has already been fined and reprimanded, but he has found that the courts protect the individual – no matter how outrageous – instead of protecting its citizens. I doubt our founding fathers are resting well.

What’s up with Terrell Owens? 

One of the most talented football players in the league dissing his quarterback, getting fired, losing a fortune, not to mention endorsements … Is he crazy? I doubt it. Narcissism can be so extreme that it makes people act crazy. How about his apology? It wasn’t the worst ever by a professional athlete, but it makes the final four. No accepting responsibility, no evidence of remorse – more like "my attorney said to apologize, so I’m apologizing. Now get out of my face!"

What about the Medicare Prescription Plan?

I would have blogged this issue, but after a 2-hour seminar and several articles, I didn’t understand it. I plan to first go to law school, so I can understand the type of language it uses. Then I plan to study the use of the English language as a means to make things so complicated and divergent that you will always be able to defend it by changing its interpretation. It does address the question – What’s wrong with letting the government solve our social problems? As they say in law res ipsi loquitor ("the thing speaks for itself").

Follow-up on Florida teacher accused of sexual abuse of young male student

(Click Here to see original article "Crazy But Not Insane") She plea-bargained a deal to avoid a public spectacle of a trial. She will be under 3 years house arrest and 10 years of probation. Her lawyer said she is in treatment for Bipolar disorder and is on 5 different medications. They had 3 psychiatrists including 1 national expert who were going to testify she did meet the standard for legal insanity – BUT, the district attorney had 3 psychiatrists who all agreed she was mentally ill, but she didn’t meet the standard for legal insanity. I’m ambivalent about not getting to see the trial. It would have been entertaining court "high drama." But it wouldn’t have been good for psychiatry to be depicted as lacking in scientific objectivity. If she was found not guilty by reason of anything, then we need to make "emotion" a defense. In that case, not even O.J. was guilty.

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Deja Vu All Over Again

On Saturday, October 1st, the CNN question of the day inviting audience emails was whether former secretary of education William Bennett is a racist.

Is that really the question? Is what he said about aborting all black babies decreasing the crime rate true? And if it’s true, doesn’t he have the right to say it?

Remember Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder saying that black are better athletes because they were bred to be stronger by slave owners? If true was it appropriate to say it? And how can expressing the truth be a bad thing, i.e., racism?

It really depends on the context and the message. To say there are more great black athletes than white (e.g. basketball) only because slaves were bred to be physically superior stronger and faster is to demean. On the other hand you could say selective breeding of blacks as common practice by slave owners has influenced modern day traits and talents. When any group of people enslaves another and directly influences breeding they interfere with natural selection and adaptation.

Did selective breeding change the gene pool in the black culture and lead to a greater number of exceptionally talented black athletes today? It’s possible. If true, can it be justified? To me nothing about slavery can be justified.

Regardless of the truth the Jimmy "the Greek" comment got him into a huge mess. Now as Yogi Berra said, "it’s deja vu all over again".

William Bennett served as secretary of education under President Reagan and as drug czar under former President George Bush. He hosts a radio show called Morning in American. On Wednesday September 28th, he commented on his radio show in response to a caller who said that if we outlawed abortion we could make Social Security solvent. Bennett responded that this was an extreme example of a solution and he was reminded of the theory in the recent best selling book, Freakonomics, that legalizing abortion was the main factor in the lowering of the crime rate. Taken to extreme this would be like aborting all black children to reduce the crime rate – which he immediately said is a reprehensible idea. One irony is that he is being accused of making racist remarks and has authored books on the theme of virtue and morality, e.g. The Book of Virtues.

The next day Mr. Bennett defended his remarks as a hypothetical argument to make the point that moral issues like abortion could not be linked to pragmatic issues like the crime rate. Unfortunately implicit in his remark was the assumption that blacks have a high crime rate. It is true that African Americans or black Americans (I’m not sure what the current politically correct term is) represent 10% of the population but 55% of individuals in federal prison. Could it be that a higher percentage of blacks accused of federal crimes are actually sent to prison? Probably. Could this fully account for the over-representation in prisons? Probably not. More poverty and less education are the major contributing factors.

You could surely make the argument that it’s only been 40 years since the Civil Rights Act and that minorities still don’t have equal opportunity. But black leaders and role models like Bill Cosby and Chris Rock would say they are tired of excuses and blacks need to take responsibility for getting an education and changing their cultural values. I believe both positions are true.

So where does all this leave us with William Bennett? What he said was most likely literally true. His underlying intention was morally right. But his example was insensitive. To say if we aborted every black baby is the same as saying if we kill or eliminate all black people we would lower the crime rate. He could have said, "if we deported all blacks…" Even more true would be if we eliminated all poor people we could lower the crime rate. While we’re in the neighborhood why not eliminate all sick people and improve the overall health of the nation? We could lower smoking and obesity …this is easy. So what?

Crime has some correlation with race and race has some correlation with poverty. Had he said we could lower the crime rate by aborting all babies in the lower socioeconomic class he probably wouldn’t have stirred up so much controversy. I don’t believe that in his heart he is a racist. But "emotional intelligence" includes being aware of other people’s sensitivities, and in this instance, I believe he screwed up. Instead of being defensive he should apologize. We can all learn from his mistake, and then let’s drop it.

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Prisoner of the Present: At the Mercy of Another Untreated ADD President

I finally realized that I’m inspired to do a blog when I’m stirred up, aroused, upset. Yesterday morning while watching CNN news and the Today Show, I said to my wife, "Where in the hell is Bush?"

Then I saw his picture on page 2 of the Dallas Morning News playing a guitar. Bush plays guitar President Bush on August 30, 2005 He apparently was in San Diego at a prescheduled trip to a military base. He was showing every one he’s "one of the guys," but he was a prisoner of the moment – instead of being in the Gulf Coast area and in our homes on TV being a leader in a time of great crisis.

Senator Mary Landrieu Senator Mary Landrieu on August 30, 2005

Of course we’re now hearing excuses about "these things take time." But last Friday morning, 6 DAYS AGO, we heard on the news that Hurricane Katrina had crossed Florida and was gaining strength in the Gulf. It was predicted at that time that it would hit New Orleans this Monday and that this would be a likely major disaster because of the fact that New Orleans is several feet below sea level and almost completely surrounded by water.

Today we learn that George W. cut his 30-day "working vacation" 2 days short and flew over the disaster dropping to within 1700 feet and said something like "what a mess!"

Later he gave a speech filled with platitudes, reassuring 100’s of thousands of victims – basically "we feel your pain" and "we’ll all end up stronger." Stahler Cartoon Jeff Stahler understands how Bush "feels their pain" Of course the majority of the victims didn’t hear the speech because they’re without power!

I have believed for a long time that George W is ADD. Three years ago I was sitting across the desk from my physician discussing the results of my stress test and physical. He reassured me that physically I was 40 – the same as our president. But our president couldn’t sit still for his post evaluation meeting with the doctor. He ran on the treadmill while getting his report.

Then I saw an interview with an official who had just left his White House staff position. To paraphrase one of his comments – it’s hard to communicate with Bush, you can only hold his attention for a couple of minutes. Then you see him on TV when he’s not the center of attention and he’s acting up like a playful school kid – making faces, etc. It’s part of his charm, but unfortunately, also a symptom of his ADD. Next week, in a detailed article on the latest science of Attention Deficit Disorder, I will describe 2 subtypes of ADD – One is boredom/need for stimulation and associated with proneness to addiction (i.e. Clinton and Monica). The other subtype is deficit in executive functioning/maturity in thinking causing inability to separate important from the unimportant (George W sitting in classroom for several minutes on 9-11 and plunking a guitar on 8-30-05). Most ADD individuals have symptoms of both, and many people who are ADD have a lot of positive traits.

The best treatment option when ADD traits are causing problems for self or others is the use of medication. You can stimulate the brain of a bored ADD individual with Adderall XR or Concerta … or by starting a major project – like – a war. You can smile with amusement as the absent minded professor doesn’t get it, Bush Binoculars Wow! What devastation! or you can be more realistic – and panic. Our president is not with the program. In a recent book by a prominent psychiatrist, Justin Frank, MD (Bush on the Couch), he details evidence for George W.’s ADD and other emotional results of a traumatic childhood. Dr. Frank quotes Bush as saying, "I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure me out … I’m just not into psychobabble." The author goes on to say, "For all his simplicity and affability, George W. Bush has remained, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, ‘A mystery wrapped in an enigma.’"

Frank makes a convincing argument that our president lacks empathy. I didn’t vote for Clinton because I don’t believe the federal government can solve all our problems, but fair is fair – he kept us out of war, he balanced the budget, and if he were president now, he would be on the Gulf Coast and the victims of Katrina would know that he would lead us through this major crisis.

We don’t have a leader right now. We need to be proactive – if nothing else, go to the Red Cross and get involved.

Are we now at the mercy of big business?

Questions to think about:

  1. How long would it have taken for Bush to take definitive action if the Gulf Coast had been attacked by a foreign army (answer in microseconds)?
  2. What lobby group is representing the hurricane victims?
  3. How can big business benefit from Katrina? Raise oil and gas prices? Tax subsidies to Insurance companies?

I also want to thank CNN for asking the hard questions while the NBC morning news group is being nice.

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I Think I'm Going To Be Sick

Let’s rub her nose in it! That will teach her a lesson. We’ll all feel better. The world seems like a safer place. Pictures of the "runaway bride" (Jennifer Wilbanks) are in the papers this week – mowing the grass at a probation center. She is to spend 120 hours doing public service for lying to the police. I don’t have any problem with her being held accountable but when I read that she has completed 24 hours of the time by scrubbing toilets in probation offices, picking up trash and washing public vehicles I felt sick.

Then I saw the story on NBC’s Today Show. Their zeal for exclusive stories has a reporter and camera crew interviewing Ms. Wilbanks in the middle of probation office grounds. She becomes visibly anxious and cuts the interview short saying, "I better get back to work. I don’t want to get in trouble." The reporter then interviews a woman who apparently works there and is supervising the various assignments. She reassures the reporter that Ms. Wilbanks has been very responsible and has worked hard. The reporter concludes the story saying "she’s no longer running away from her responsibilities."

What an idiot! Is that really the way he understands this story? It has been widely reported that she has been under intensive psychiatric treatment since she drew national media attention. The facts of the initial story and the subsequent events have shown that she is not a sociopath or criminal – she probably suffers from a form of bipolar mood disorder.

So let’s chase her around the yard as she mows the grass and let’s make her scrub toilets at the probation center. Let’s get the message out to all the potential criminals out there we’re not going to tolerate lying to the police. I think I’ll throw up!

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Crazy But Not Insane

I saw an interview last week on the Today Show with the lawyer for Debra Lafave, the 23 school teacher in Florida accused of sexual assault of a 14 year old male student.  Her lawyer is seeking an insanity defense because what she did is obviously insane. He felt that because she’s so attractive, putting her in prison (a hell hole) would be like throwing raw meat to lions and he was not sure she would survive.
My first reaction was to agree with him. But then I thought that approach is mainly going to piss people off. When you look at her picture and hear the facts you immediately think, “That’s crazy”.

Then you see another teacher in Tennessee, Pamela Turner, is accused of sexual assault of a 13 year old.

What could possibly cause these two women to show such poor judgment? Do they have a legitimate insanity defense? Recently Mary Kay Letourneau, the Washington teacher who was charged for sexual assault of a 13 year old student, got out of prison after 7 years and married her ex-student. They have 2 kids together, 7 and 8 years old. He’s now 22 and she’s 43. Can these relationships really work out?

I have spent the last few days researching the laws relating to age of consent for sex and the use of the insanity defense. I have also thought about the possible psychiatric disorders that could be involved and tried to understand how the biology of love could go so awry as it appears to have done. In the case of the 2 current teachers, their behavior is clearly crazy but not legally insane. They’re both toast. What a waste.

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Violence in Sports and the Nature of Aggression and Lessons Learned from Kenny Rogers and John Wooden

Kenny Rogers of the Texas Rangers joined a growing list of sports heroes who become infamous after public displays of totally inappropriate aggression. What is it about our nature and especially professional sports that causes this behavior? What lessons are we not learning or at least not applying to reduce or ideally eliminate this kind of behavior?

John Wooden was named by ESPN as Coach of the Century for the twentieth century. At age 94 this week he released a new book, Wooden on Leadership. He stands in apparent sharp contrast to sports heroes “out of control.” In his book he describes 15 principles of leadership in his “Pyramid of Success.” They include: poise, confidence, skill, self-control, initiative, loyalty, and enthusiasm. Emotionalism of any kind, he notes, is our enemy. It interferes with the positive traits that lead to success.

John Wooden’s 41 year coaching record has never been equaled. He won ten national college basketball championships in 12 years – with 3 completely different teams. We visualize him as the paragon of class. But he admits that his self-control came gradually. Beneath great success usually burns high intensity. He recalls as a young coach being cursed and belittled by an opposing coach whose team they had just beaten. “I saw red and without thinking, knocked him down to the court.”

As we seek to understand why our sports heroes are increasingly losing their composure it’s especially helpful to read what Wooden says lead him to quit sports at the height of his success 30 years ago. He describes the feeling of living under a magnifying glass, and the “never ending speculation.” He says the “overwhelming attention, inspection, and curiosity become more of an irritant.” It was deeply disturbing when I read how he lost control as a young coach and then later quit because of all the pressure of media scrutiny. I feel more compassion toward our current “fallen heroes.”

So we begin to better understand the psychology of striving for perfection and risking your self-esteem in front of thousands if not millions of people over and over again. Our culture puts athletes on a pedestal. They are paid millions of dollars and lead life styles most of us will never know. With success comes a certain inevitable narcissism. Then with failure – losses, trades, comes disappointment and frustration and increased media scrutiny. We should all try to imagine being at one of our lowest points and having TV cameras in our face and sports journalists speculating about what’s really going on with us. Are we being sincere and doing our best or are we faking and manipulating? But why violence?

Sports is mostly a civilized competition that is at the foundation a sublimation of combat. The instinct to wage war is deeply rooted in our genes. Men especially are hard wired as protectors and providers. The amount of hormone testosterone is related to aggression. Jane Goodall discovered that male Chimpanzees would band together to wage war against other Chimpanzee groups. One interesting outcome of battle is that the testosterone level in the victors goes up but it goes down in the losers. Perhaps these hormone changes help to establish power hierarchies and establish some form of social order.

Even more basic to the biology of aggression are the brain transmitters, especially serotonin and norepinephrine. Serotonin is the oldest and most primitive brain system. It is primarily responsible for homeostasis (balance) and control. Studies have found that the more violent behavior is, the lower the serotonin levels in the brain. Conversely, norepinephrine, the brain transmitter system associated with arousal and “fight or flight,” is elevated in impulsive or angry aggression. None of this physiology applies to cold-blooded, premeditated aggression.

There are several polymorphic genes that increase the tendency to be aggressive or violent. In one study of violent delinquent teens it was only the combination of certain gene types plus a history of childhood abuse that resulted in violent criminal behavior. There is overlap between intensity, extreme competitiveness, and aggressiveness. A famous coach once said, “you show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”

Does all this mean that violent acts by professional athletes are inevitable? Given that, even John Wooden punched an opposing coach. It’s in their genes and cameras are in their face so shouldn’t we accept it as unavoidable? I don’t believe that we can prevent all future episodes but there are major changes that could be made to markedly reduce these incidents.

We need to educate people about the nature of aggression and make them aware of the many available treatment approaches. Hypnosis works for some. In my 39 years of clinical experience I have seen many people who could not control their “short fuse” temper without taking medication. There are several mood stabilizers (see Best Meds) that have been found to be very effective. There are also certain blood pressure medications that have been found to be useful (Propranolol, Clonodine, Guanfacine). Others do well on antidepressants or ADHD medications. Having mandatory severe punishment – stated in advance would help with self-control in the “heat of battle.”

In the case of Kenny Rogers many factors contributed to his “blow up.” He had been showing increasing inappropriate behavior – but apparently nothing was said or done. He was maligned in the media. There is some evidence that team officials were leaking information to the media in an apparent attempt to provoke him in some way that’s not clear. Were they trying to inspire an increase in his competitive intensity? Were they trying to manipulate him to ask for a trade? I’m sure there are factors that we don’t understand. If the constant in your face media drove John Wooden out of coaching maybe we need to reexamine the degree of access the media has to the players.

On the other hand doesn’t all this make for good gossip? Don’t we need escapism from day to day pressure and stress? So is the system really “broke?” If it is “broke” do we really want to fix it?


Related Blog: You Got To Know When To Walk Away …

Related Blog: Go Team! Fans, Testosterone and You …

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