Many said I was cold-blooded for betraying a dying man for cold hard cash
The reality is, I honored a living man and his family for a year, while sacrificing valuable time with my own.
My youngest son is two and a half years-old now, but was barely one, then and for the year I shot Steve’s film, I would have to regain his infant trust each time I got home from extended trips to New Orleans. I was tunnel-vision focused and strained my closest relationships and ignored my long-time friends. When I took on this project with Steve, it became the third documentary I was shooting, simultaneously, all with borrowed personal funds from my fiancee. The sacrifice was difficult, but when I traveled to NOLA, I felt like I was coming home to a family, even as I was neglecting my own. After I wrote a poem about Steve, The Soulful Steve G, I was literally open-arm-welcomed into the Varisco clan (his wife Michel’s family). The matriarch, my personal favorite, “Jilly V,” told me, “you are family.” I have never met a woman more inviting and genuinely sweet as this lady. I miss her welcoming energy tremendously.
I was given nicknames by the guys, “Sonny,” “Seanny P.” I was kissed on the lips by Jilly V when I arrived and hugged with powerful affection by friends and family every time I left. I never had to rent a hotel room or a car. Most of the time I was there, I was not shooting my camera. Much of it was spent with Steve, who I grew to love and protect like a younger brother. I annoyed him on many occasions because I failed to give him his personal space for fear he would fall, as he had done several times.
I never let Steve-O fall and caught him a few times, as well. Catching Steve Gleason
But when push came to shove with this Gregg Williams speech, I pleaded with Steve and Michel Gleason to allow me to do what I felt to be the right thing weeks before this audio became public. I did not breach our production agreement and I did nothing illegal, even though Steve texted me shortly before this story came out and claimed, I had done so. I DID NOT NEED HIS PERMISSION, but sought his blessing repeatedly, in order to preserve our relationship. I drastically overestimated how important preserving our bond was to him. Any lawyer can verify the veracity of my legal standing and I have precise documentation of my motivations and actions. These facts were accurately reported by Yahoosports!, when Mike Silver wrote about the contracts contents on April 7th, 2 days after the audio’s release and practically no one picked up the story. It had zero traction with the public. Meanwhile, Steve’s carefully crafted statement had been disseminated over 1,600 times, including internationally. The salacious narrative had already been established and grew into a tidal wave of hate crashing down on me.
And I truly despise the media for it.The reality is that I was willing to give up finishing a film project with Steve Gleason that could have sent my career through the stratosphere, knowing full well I would be scrutinized and vilified for following my internal compass. The reality is that Pearl Jam (my favorite band for 20 years) was likely going to be creating music for and letting us license some their library. The reality is nearly three weeks before the audio came out, I told Steve to replace me with someone who could post-produce the film and make it look like I got fired. I would accept no awards, do no press, take no bows. Just don’t kill me in public for my decision. In the moment where I was willing to give all that up to do what I considered to be the right thing, Michel Gleason called me an “opportunist” and a “liar.” I truly loved her and respected her position as a scared wife, looking to vigorously protect her husbands interests. But in that moment–with people who consistently would profess their love for me and my efforts–I got a clear wake-up call and reality-check about my true standing in their lives. I wasn’t family. I wasn’t even an adopted distant cousin. I was providing a service for them. Nothing more. Nothing less. Did I sign up under these conditions to be someone’s employee?
I borrowed money for a year to build a video library for their son and make a movie, which was to be a love story about two people facing circumstances (ALS) which no one should have to endure. Because of those circumstances–to this day–I hold no ill will toward Steve and Michel and vehemently suggest no one else should. I cannot imagine what if feels like to dream at night that you are your whole self and wake up knowing part of you is missing and not having the facility with language to easily describe how you feel. I can’t imagine what if feels like to be in a wheel chair in a park watching a father and son play catch, knowing you, a former two-sports star, would never do the same with your own offspring. Actually, I can imagine those things, but they are not my reality. They are Steve Gleason’s.
I have true compassion and feel a deep sorrow for what he is enduring.
But the people around them?
Those who disparaged me publicly in the print and social media and privately in texts and e-mails? I have a feeling of unhealthy rage toward them I have to fight with daily because it eats at me every time I am called a “scumbag” and every possible pejorative term you can imagine. The term that offends me to the deepest part of my core?
Steve and Michel knew my mission.
–for nearly a year before I met them–was to provide true informed consent for the people who play tackle football. “The United States of Football” is a cultural examination of the game, from Pee Wee to the Pro’s. They knew I was a father gathering information because I had always wanted my son to play. Asking the very question so many parents (NFL players among them) are addressing now.
It’s the very question that was on the front page of the USA Today last week!
When I met Steve I wanted to interview him for the USOF film project, but he balked because he didn’t want to be closely associated with his former Saints teammate, Kyle Turley, whom he considered to be too radical in his beliefs and the way he expressed them. Kyle Turley was diagnosed as CTE symptomatic (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) a few years ago and is a main character in “The United States of Football.” His condition was diagnosed by the renowned Dr. Robert Cantu and is thought to be the result of repetitive head trauma. Kyle’s music lyrics are the very soul of the USOF film. To date, I have never met a man with more loyalty, passion and conviction. He is a dear friend and someone I admire greatly for the way he treats people. And when he screws up, he owns it. Even with his admitted and complicated flaws, Kyle is just the type of man I am forever proud to be associated with
We end many interactions, with two words. “We Ride!”
The perception by many is that I did this for money and fame?
The reality is for nearly 20 years I had been doing work considered “too progressive” or ahead of the curve to be consistently embraced by the mainstream television audience. Who Wants it More-The Turk
I worked or freelanced for almost every major television sports entity in the country and too many television executives thought you were too stupid to get what I was producing. I, on the other hand have consistently held true to the belief that entertainment consumers deserved more than we were getting. That we should be challenged to reject the accepted social norms and inspired to speak up for things we believe in.
Afraid of the Dark Mike Tyson Ricky Williams-Pure Ricky
The reality is that Mike “The Situation” and those like him, should not be an epidemic. That he should be seen as nothing more than the aesthetically pleasing, tight pair of abs on a man desperate for the approval of his friends and the adulation of strangers. Meanwhile, he’s laughing all the way to the bank after going to the gym, getting his tan on and picking up his laundry. Still, I used to watch Jersey Shore as a guilty pleasure, as well. God bless him.
But where the fuck is Howard Beale and who is mad as hell these days?
The reality is, back in the 90‘s, my work was in your face and audacious,
But I was a complete pussy on the inside. I was irrationally scared of public exposure and a harsh polarizing spotlight I knew would follow me. I repeatedly pushed myself to the edge of mainstream success and then would consciously screw it up and frustrate everyone in my life. People who counted on me I would let down, repeatedly. The agent who was speechless when I backed out of shooting my own t.v. pilot two hours before cameras were supposed to roll.
The friends who I would alternately praise, but in heated moments I would cut them to the core with their deepest insecurities. I torched my marriage and fractured countless business and personal relationships. Inside I was two incongruous people. A guy who could go to work Manhattan and be counter-culture-provocative and creative, then ride the subway home to Bay Ridge Brooklyn–to a comfortably modest apartment–and be an anonymous family man. I liked walking down the street to buy a slice of pizza without being noticed.
I just wanted to be an artist, while still being able to adequately provide for my family.
After two frustrating decades, I owned the fact you can’t have it both ways and I faced my fear and accepted the scrutiny and venom that comes with following one’s conscience. I shot three football films in the past two years and I was about to be further in the public eye, regardless. I didn’t need or want it to happen this way.
In the aftermath of the audio’s release, I was approached by countless media outlets and ultimately would back out or refused to do anything on camera because I wanted the raw footage of all my interviews to be aired un-cut and put on the web. I simply didn’t trust the media to tell my story without meeting these conditions and other’s they found to be absurd. I wanted the interview done in NY. I wanted other people interviewed for the story. I agreed to three different scenario’s and backed out or alienated the people pursuing me because I was confused and overwhelmed.
I didn’t trust many of them because I used to work with and for, most of them.
Two hours after I had released the audio on April 5th, I reached out to Deadspin.com and told them that I would agree to exclusively give them my “Tru Dat” essay if they would publish it without a single revision. I thought, “at least they aren’t full of shit and pretending to be something they’re not.” And they’ll let me say ‘fuck’ when I feel like it. I told them I would agree to not talk to anyone else for a month. That fell through because I had already published it on my site and I wasn’t comfortable sharing any other new information. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, as well, for I was running a fever of 102.5 after suffering a major stress reaction and infection in my legs.
A few months earlier, at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Steve Gleason told me that I listen to and trust, too few people and he listens to “too many.” He was right on both accounts.
Kyle Turley joked and told me when I released this audio that if I had signed a confidentiality clause and just buried it, I could have gotten 7-figures” in hush money. The fact is, I never considered the option. Even though I am a man of modest means, who has borrowed money to tell the truth and is 6-figures in debt. Even though I have significant back taxes to take care of and the pressure of knowing by giving up a sure thing like Gleason’s film, I could easily finish my third film in the past 6 years and still owe a lot of money.
The fact is, I knew releasing that audio was going to prohibit me from taking an incredibly marketable Steve Gleason film and solving ALL my financial issues and setting me up for a prosperous future. Given my actual circumstances most people would consider me mentally ill for standing by actual principles. Instead they project their own greed on me and dismiss me as “arrogant.” My assertion that I am motivated to “do the right thing” has been scoffed at and I have been branded “self-righteous.” I sincerely wish I would have come of age in the 1950’s and 60’s where social activism and the appreciation of an intelligent approach was valued more.
The reality is, on March 18th, I came down from high atop my soap box and looked Steve and Michel Gleason right in the eye and showed them about 30 specific minutes of edited material from “The United States of Football,” all of which was men and their families suffering from dementia, CTE and maladies associated with head trauma. Their wives were at their sides, feeding men who didn’t recognize them. Women who were football widows with slowly dying husbands. I thought the parallel would be too obvious to ignore. One of those women is Sylvia Mackey, the woman whose husband, Hall of Fame tight end, John Mackey had died the previous July. The same Sylvia Mackey who was personally responsible for the birth of “The 88 Plan,” which was named after John Mackey’s uniform number and helped so many families with football-related medical expenses. The same Sylvia Mackey who suggested to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell 16 months earlier, that ALS should be addled to The Plan. And it was! I showed them footage of this woman who pushed for change which directly benefited them financially, with payments they were getting from the NFL.
My argument got zero traction.
It’s a statistical fact that ALS is several times more prevalent in men who played tackle football than the general population. I asked for the Gleason’s blessing and told them our film was a “sure thing” but “The United States of Football” was “more important for our culture.” And that the message I was trying to deliver could not be ignored, as a result of letting people hear what football truly sounds like in its most primal form.
I told them the audio would create a reality check moment. PERIOD.
No dice. And the chasm between us grew deeper.
The perception is I went “rogue” and was acting out of self-interest.
The reality is there were SEVERAL people consulted through this process and I was seeking their approval, even though I didn’t need it. I did not want to be pitted against a man I loved deeply, especially in a public forum. The fact that he has a terminal illness is something I knew would preclude any rational thought or critical analysis. The reality is the only thing I gained by being associated with Steve was true insight into my chemical make-up. And for that I am TRULY grateful. During the shooting of this film, I spent so much time crying that it was unbearable. At some point, I realized that even though the material and the circumstances were dire, my emotions were clearly outsized and way beyond extreme. After a lifetime of vacillating between thinking I could “change the world” at 11 p.m. and literally not being able to get out of bed at 11am the following morning, I went and sought professional help. I have been in therapy and medicated for my bi-polarity for about ten months and haven’t had a single day where I woke up depressed. Not a single day. I still have profound anger issues, but I am getting professional help and trying daily, to be a better person. Sometimes I slip up and just can’t help myself. But ultimately, I don’t feel shame for it anymore because I understand who I am now and know specifically who I want to be.
I feel like I have been released from a mental prison and am learning to gain my balance and walk without being constricted. I still have a lot of work to do. But I haven’t had a single suicidal thought in the past 10 months and I used to get them with a frequency I do not wish to share. I don’t look at bottles of anti-freeze anymore and wonder how much I could drink before it affected me. I don’t drive over bridges and wonder how many people have jumped and survived. I don’t imagine how fast you’d die if hit by a subway train or a passing bus.
But when Junior Seau killed himself and some people called him a “coward,” or said he took the easy way out, I wanted to scream because I wondered how many times he considered it before he went through with it…
Most people have no idea what it feels like to have an emotional range that prohibits you from living a balanced, functioning life! Or the shame one feels for treating people you love and respect, in ways you can’t fathom only a few minutes after you have done it. Or the relationships you devastate when you aren’t strong enough to look in the mirror, own your shit and ask for help.
Except for the 13 months I abstained from marijuana during the making of “Run Ricky Run,” I have never been consistently clear headed since I was in the 7th grade. Being able to admit that to you and more importantly, to myself is a big step. Being able to say it publicly is liberating. I am a walking oxymoron because on one level I care deeply about everything, but at the same time, why should I care what you think?
A few months ago my 13-year-old son summed up life. “We’re all slowly dying,” he said, “so you might as well make the most of it, while you’re here.”
A friend asked me a few years ago what my ultimate goal is?
“I want to help change the cultural male authentic.”
“I want it to be acceptable for males to be able to express their fears and affections without being ridiculed for it. I want us to be able to say when we are scared or feeling weak. I want us guys to be able to talk about ‘connecting’ with people, rather than ‘fucking bitches.’ I want us to be true selves and that be okay.”
After nearly 30 years of self-treating, I am a 67 days sober and about to be medicated for my attention deficit issues, so I can focus and be accountable to the talents I possess and activist spirit within my heart. Through hard work, I am looking to make restitution on my taxes, pay back the significant personal debt I have incurred while “trying to change the world” and own my actions and ask forgiveness from the many personal and professional relationships I have damaged along the way.
But to be very clear; I will never ask Steve Gleason for forgiveness. I honored him every time I picked up or put down my camera.
I gave to him every day of our relationship. In the past two months I have been threatened with legal action and the only conversation Steve and I had he would say “I refuse to debate you” every time I tried to bring up the reality of the way this all went down. I can document clearly how I tried to make this all go away behind the scenes on multiple occasions. I do not intend to accept any compensation for my services, as it relates to the production of his film, or the library I created for his child.
As for the people around me who put in the exhaustive amounts of time, invested the money and took the chance to work on spec? They deserve everything owed to them and we will fight Steve’s lawyers if they try to profit from our labor, sweat and intellectual property, without being fair to everyone involved.
Within hours of the audio tape being released, that love from the extended family who adopted me in New Orleans, turned to VILE hatred toward me. I felt a genuine affection for all of them. I miss Jilly greeting me with her hands on each side of my face and a kiss on the lips. And I desperately miss the feeling of acceptance and the warmth I felt every time I got off the airplane at Louis Armstrong Airport and being welcomed by the beautiful people in a city, I one day hoped to call home. That ship sunk in the Bayou.
Illness does not eliminate accountability, or provide character immunity.