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#68 Kenny Stills parle de son traumatisme racial, de sa carrière en NFL et de sa sortie du placard psychédélique

13 décembre 2022

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Is the NFL world ready for psychedelic therapy?

Kenny Stills is an NFL athlete, activist, and philanthropist. When not playing wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, Kenny manages the Kenny Stills Foundation; an initiative focused on improving the quality of life of underserved communities through education and enriching experiences.

Kenny is also one of the first football players to come out of the psychedelic closet and is also a graduate of Field Trip’s ketamine-assisted therapy program.

Today, Kenny joins Ronan to discuss his career, racial trauma as an NFL athlete, the NFL’s approach to psychedelics, and the problem with the current political climate in the US. Tune in to find out more!

Kenny also shares his experiences with psychedelic therapy and explains the importance of taking care of our emotional and physical health to battle against racism, hate, and inequality. 


Kenny Stills 0:00

I definitely feel different about the United States and the flag and all of things. But I also understand, you know, how, what being here, what it’s done for me and the position that it’s put, you know, myself and my family. And so here in the US, I feel like our politicians don’t put the people before themselves. And I that’s not a place that I necessarily feel like works for me.

Ronan Levy 0:29

Hello, everyone, and welcome to field tripping. Joining us today is a man whose accolades include being an NFL wide receiver, a philanthropist, and possibly the most stylish person I’ve ever met. Our guest today is Kenny stills. When not playing wide receiver Kenny is focused on the Kenny stills Foundation, and his initiative still growing an effort that intersects mental health and human rights by taking care of our emotional and physical health to battle against racism, hate and equality. And inequality. Kenny is also one of the first football players to come out of the psychedelic closet and is also a graduate of field trips, ketamine assisted therapy program. Kenny, thank you for joining us today. And welcome to field tripping

Kenny Stills 1:14

Thank you, thank you for having me. excited, I’m excited to be out of the closet

Ronan Levy 1:21

are happy to have you out of the closet and thank you for reaching out, you know, it was God had to be a year ago that you’ve reached out to I think, Joseph, my business partner on LinkedIn. And then we had a call, I remember I was driving down the highway chatting with you being like, this is pretty cool. I’m talking to an NFL player about psychedelics didn’t didn’t expect that to happen. So.

Kenny Stills 1:46

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing what happens when you kind of step outside of your comfort zone and start reaching out to people and trying to figure out exactly where you can fit into a space. And so I appreciate you all, you know, taking the time and us continuing to build this relationship.

Ronan Levy 2:04

Me as well. So I had a different question. But why don’t we to hop into the conversation that we were having right before we hit the record button, which was, you’re not playing in the NFL right now. But you said that you were looking for that adrenaline hits, that you would get on the field that you’re not getting elsewhere? And then so you’re finding it elsewhere? Have to hear more about that, which is when did you become aware of this? And then how have you been trying to fill it and what other insights are coming out of this, you know, exploration.

Kenny Stills 2:35

One of the things that professional athletes football players, and you know, I can speak on worry about, obviously, it’s been able to figure out what we’re going to do, you know, next after I’ve been playing football since I was six years old. So I’m 30, that’s 24 years of football every year of my life. And so to not have this context, for a place where we have this adrenaline rush where we get to be physical. It’s missing, in a sense now that I that I haven’t played this season. And so I realized maybe I want to say two years ago, I was playing, and then I got released. And so I went to the mountains for a little while, and I started getting lessons on the snowboard. And I started to feel that sense of belonging, that sense of peace and that adrenaline rush that I could find on the mountain by going fast by making those nice turns. And really building resilience again, by having to start at square one. In another sport, you know, when you when you get used to playing at a high level and mastering something like football, which is you know, an everyday thing. You get used to being good at everything, you know, and so to be able to go out there and feel like you have to lift feet, or you know, just to be to go out there and fall and want to quit and have that feeling of like oh man, like forget this, I’m not good at this, you know, I’m done with it. And then you know, to get up the next day and do it again and continue to build that resilience. It really showed me as I like journaled and look back at that time, you know, something that I wanted to continue to build on and be a part of. And so, snowboarding for the past two years has been huge for me. And then I took up surfing this past year. I mean, I tried to surf two years ago, I wasn’t very good this year, I caught a couple of waves. And now I can actually say that I’m a surfer. But yeah, just doing things that really challenged me that scare me and build resilience are, you know, things that I feel like are a good recipe for me as I turn this page and go to the next chapter of my life.

Ronan Levy 4:38

And last week we had Mike Posner, singer songwriter Mike Posner on and having a conversation and one of the things he talked about was actually that which is he found that he skyrocketed success ups and downs and then came to a point where he realized he wasn’t living his life. He was living someone else’s life and that he had spent his whole life in pursuit of comfort, when his true essence at least where he is right now is about being uncomfortable and stepping outside of his comfort zone. And so he walked across America, he climbed Everest, he did all of these things. And, and in many ways, it sounds like you’re on a similar kind of path with surfing and snowboarding and all that kind of stuff, putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. Has this been a kind of new realization for you? Or have you always been a person who’s like, Fuck it, let’s, let’s look around, let’s find out what happens like, what, where is that for you?

Kenny Stills 5:37

I think it’s been more conscious as of late, I can, the last time that I could think of something that I had to do that I didn’t want to do was maybe like 20 2016 2016, I decided I was going to go on this trip, basically, all throughout the south to learn about what was happening, I wanted to educate myself on what was happening in the south. And I wanted to visit all the African American history museums and do some mentorship work. And when I signed up to do this trip, it’s like 21 days in an RV, and I was thinking I was just kind of gonna get to show up and kind of be a sponge, and listen and learn, ended up being that, you know, some of the schools that I visited wanted me to, you know, speak to the kids and talk about, you know, community police relations and talk about the protests and why we were taking a knee during the national anthem. And so I’m preparing as we go on this trip to like, put a speech together. And I’m at that point, really didn’t like public speaking. And so that’s the last time that I can think of where I was, like, damn, I got to do something that I really don’t want to do, I’m afraid of doing. And here we go. And so I pushed through it, you know, through these through that trip, and some of the talks went really well. And some of them I bombed and you know, that’s just how it goes, it’s part of life. But I think ever since then, something kind of turned in me to where, if I’m afraid of something, or if it gets a rise out of me, or I start sweating, or my body has some type of reaction, and I’m intimidated, that’s the direction that I want to go. And so now I kind of searched those things out more things really interesting and fun. And it’s really a part of me, and it’s something that I kind of challenge a lot of my friends and family to do as well, if if they’re ready, you know, I feel like you’ve got to be in a place, you know, your cups got to be full, etc, for you to be able to really be out there, trying to build adversity and put yourself in challenging spots.

Ronan Levy 7:28

Totally. That’s awesome. And thank you for sharing that. It’s interesting hearing someone say it’s been six years since I had to do something that I didn’t really want to do. And I think there’s a lot of people who would sit in awe and envy and probably jealousy of that. And so it’s, it’s cool for you to be just candid about that, you know, that is part of your experience. Well, I’ll

Kenny Stills 7:47

say too, is a lot of that has to do with with mindset, and like the work that I’ve done in that space, you know, so like I’ve said before, but for the people that haven’t, you know, heard me speak before I started therapy, and mindset work with like a life coach in 2016, early, early 2016. And the mindset work combined with a therapy and, you know, the use of psychedelics all, like the three things really helped me turn the corner when it comes to just my overall perspective in life. And an example of that would be like, recently, I had a trip I was gonna go to, I had a trip plan to Bali, because I’m like, in between trying to figure out if I want to continue to play or not, I’ve still been training, I’m still ready to go. But I had a trip plan to Bali. And so the day before I leave for this trip, I got a call from my agent, like, hey, we want you to go work out for a team. And I’m like, okay, so I have to cancel this trip to Bali, so that I could go you know, work out that’s what I’ve been preparing for this whole time. And as soon as I called the airline to cancel the trip, I knew that I wanted to be done with football and that I wanted to go on this trip to buy like, as soon as I had to call in and make that you know, I got the official email and stuff I was in the shower, I got out and I was like damn, I’m, I’m done with football. Like mentally and physically. Like I don’t want to play football anymore. But I had already agreed to go to this workout and I had already canceled my, my flight to Bali. So at that point, mentally it was like okay, we’re gonna go do this thing, you’re gonna go prove that you can still play that you’re good to go you’re gonna go out there and give your best effort. And that is what it is because you know, that’s the position that you’re in. And so I’ve built up enough of that and in my mindset to say hey, this is the decision now we’re going with it don’t don’t second guess it. Don’t you know sit here and like be down and out and worried about it. Just okay, these are the decisions and these are the things that are happening. So let’s go execute.

Ronan Levy 9:47

How is that different? Like if you could put yourself in Kenny stills 2015. Before you started this therapy and mindset work, how would you have reacted differently in those circumstances?

Kenny Stills 9:57

We talked about with My life coach, we talk about the ability to be able to have something happen to you. And then how long does it take you to recover? And that’s the measurement. And, like, the progress that we’ve been able to make, and that’s how I that’s how I look at that. It’s like, I think at that point in time, I would have been, you know, all the way up until the workout in my head, you know, oh, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to do this. Why am I here, I wish I was in Bali, or you know, all these things. Were in that in that instance, in that case, it was like, Okay, I’ve made the decision. And that’s that, you know, in my, in my mind, and my body, it was like, okay, here, this is what you want to do. But this is what you have to do. So we’re going and then, you know, second guess where we just full steam ahead to the thing that we made the choice on. And so I think about it that way is like the ability to be able to recover from, you know, anything that has thrown you off of your path, and how long that takes you. And sometimes it’s shorter, sometimes it’s longer. But I think that’s, that’s how I measure my progress in the space and with my own personal wellness.

Ronan Levy 11:08

And I think an important point is not just measuring how long or how short it is, is also to have compassion when for yourself when it takes longer being like this sucks. passion for it, and 100 something I still struggle with. Thank you for sharing that. So I have this question here that I’m going to read. But there’s a few pieces to it. So I was growing up. I always wanted to be a professional athlete. Unfortunately, my five nine Jewish genetics eventually overpowered my athletic drive. And I settled for a life of lawyering and entrepreneurship. I’m not sure it was a fair trade. But I’m also not complaining. Curious to know, what was it like growing up in a football household where you always bent on becoming a pro athlete and fast forwarding to now? What is it like not playing football, it sounds like you had a crystal clear moment of like, I’m done with this. But up until you hit that point, you can only imagine that there’s got to be a lot of chaos internally, when you’ve spent, you know, the 20 last 24 years, dedicated to this goal in a family in many ways that seems to have been dedicated to this goal. So there’s gonna be a lot of identity issues that come up when when you make that decision. So what was it like growing up in a football household? And how was it making that transition to be like, I’m done with football, and also in that, what was it like, like not being on a team for the first time that I also imagined that’s gotta be devastating. But I’m curious to know what the experience was.

Kenny Stills 12:36

So growing up in a football household, it’s really funny. My dad played professional football for seven years. But my mom was the person that pushed football on me, she signed me up at six, I played typo from the very beginning. And she made sure that I played every year that I was at practice all the time she was she was the one that made sure that I was playing ball all the time I, I dreamed of playing in the NFL and playing college football, I had a ball in my hand since I was a little baby and run around the house doing push ups and sit ups like no one ever had to tell me to do anything. I was literally just like, bread for ball. And accomplishing that goal was something that like, you know, you believe you can do something, but when you do it still it’s it’s very surreal. And unbelievable. In a sense. You know, my parents always, you know, taught me to be humble. And I think I kind of missed, like, didn’t miss understood like confidence. And like humble, I didn’t know that two things between like being humble and having confidence. And so I think in my younger, earlier careers, earlier years of my career, I struggled with, like my overall confidence. I had to like, have these mantras and things that I read and remind myself all the time that like, Hey, I’m here, I deserve to be here. I’m one of the best at what I do. I never wanted to be like perceived as this like diva, like cocky, you know, asshole type of dude. And so I really I struggled with that. But then, you know, obviously, as things continue to go on, you just you have these mantras and you and you really start to believe and you see your highlights, and you see, you know, the things that you’re able to do. And so I look back at my career post now. And I think about what, why I played and what my motivation was. And my motivation, in the very beginning was to take care of my family and take care of my mom and mom’s single parent. She raised five kids on her own, and she never really had, in my from my perspective, a man that treated her the way that I thought she should have been treated and taken care of. And so my motivation was always to take care of her. And so I look back on my career now that I’m able to say, you know that I’m okay with being done in a way of understanding that I did, what I came to, I did what I accomplished, I mean, I accomplished what I wanted to do. which was take care of my mom, you know, she’s in a good place, we have a great relationship, most of my family is in a good place. And I’m happy with that, I’m proud of that, you know, I’ve I, you know, you dream of, you know, being an All Pro or Super Bowl winner or going to the Pro Bowl, all these different things, all the accolades that you that you hope to accumulate. But in the grand scheme of things I did, what, what I set out to do, and that was to take care of my mother. And so I’m really proud of that, I think, you know, I have more years in the tank, you know, I can continue to play at a high level, but to play nine years, to be fairly healthy, I have no major injuries. And I’ve built a network and connections that I have to be able to stand up for black and brown people and social justice in ways that, you know, I never could have imagined, you know, I felt like, I came into what I was supposed to do, and I’m really excited about, you know, what’s next. And if that’s something really big, and that’s great. And if that’s something you know, really basic and, and smooth, and I just kind of disappear off in the wind, then then that’s great, too.

Ronan Levy 16:05

Thank you for sharing all of that. That last comment is particularly interesting, which is the farthest thing from a celebrity. But when I go to conferences, I psychedelic space, I got a lot of attention, which I don’t actually particularly love, because it totally triggers my internal shyness. But every once in a while, I get a sense of how it must be for athletes and celebrities to go from theme to no fame and how trying that may be. And it sounds like you’re, you’re approaching it pretty open mindedly but I can only imagine, every once in a while, beyond being a having dreams of being an athlete, or I also had dreams of being a musician, but I like rhythm, and tone. So that was also cast out from my list of future accomplishments. But I can only imagine what it must be like standing in front of like 80,000 people cheering your name, or whatever the case may be, and how intoxicating that must be. And suddenly to go back into normal life and just be a citizen must be jarring. Are you prepared for that? Or is that still a work in progress?

Kenny Stills 17:06

Yeah, definitely. Definitely prepared for not having the spotlight on me. I enjoy, you know, being a regular dude. And I’ve never really been one for the attention. You know, it’s not been my thing. It comes with what we do. I’ve always played better in the bigger games and under the lights. But yeah, man, I’m actually really excited to I go places and travel by myself and try to be a nobody. Like, that’s, that’s my thing. I think, in the offseason, at least for the last four years, even through COVID We traveled and like I always try to go places and I don’t want I don’t tell people what I do. I don’t tell people who I am. I try to go by myself, and really just vibe with the people and be like everyone else. And I think that was my way of preparing myself for not really being in the spotlight. But you never know. We’ll see. You know, I know that I’m competitive. And when I really think about, like, who I am. We talked about, you know, really like over the last, you know, couple of months coming to the decision of being like, Okay, I’m ready, you know, to turn the page and I, when I had times where I faltered a little bit, and was nervous about turning the page and nervous about being done and skeptical, skeptical about, you know, who I am, and what I care about when I really got to the nuts and bolts and the foundation of who I am. I don’t think that being in the spotlight is something that really is of like relevance to me. You know, I like I like to serve other people. I like action sports. I like being outside. I like you know, psychedelics. And so I think all of the things that I’m passionate about will do a good job of taking over the things that I’ll miss from playing in sports. A guy

Ronan Levy 18:59

who does psychedelics and therapy, at least therapy back in 2016 I don’t know when psychedelics entered the conversation in probably the most hyper masculine business in the world. How was that received by your teammates and your friends in the NFL? And then did you take a lot of shit for it? Or are people pretty open minded?

Kenny Stills 19:21

The locker room is fairly conservative, just because the black and brown community basically makes up a majority of the locker room and black people have had negative experiences with with drugs, you know, being with the with crack and with cocaine. And so a lot of people are skeptical when it comes to any drugs. Yeah, so that’s I think that’s more people are more just skeptical and a sense of the way that the government has, you know, told us about psychedelics and talk to us about psychedelics and Herodotus with propaganda about psychedelics. And so it’s, it’s more that than anything, I think the softness that has come from me, using psychedelics and going to therapy and learning more about myself, also is, is a little bit intimidating because the locker room is so masculine. And there isn’t really this place for this balance, and I don’t think, coming, you know, speaking for myself, like, I didn’t come from a place of balance, I didn’t, you know, it wasn’t something that was like passed on from, you know, my dad or for my grandpa. And so we’re navigating new space, you know, when you’re navigating new space, it’s, it is, you know, it can be a challenge. It’s different, but I feel so comfortable with like who I am, and in my skin, like, if dudes want to talk, then we’ll sit in the locker room and chat or we’ll go have lunch or whatever, and chat. And I try to help as many people as I can with, with a little bit of knowledge that I have. But also just encourage guys to, you know, to read and to listen to podcasts and get out there and try to educate themselves as much as possible and just unlearn some of the things that we’ve been taught and learn for yourself and kind of get your own perspective and mindset on on what you think about psychedelics and how, or if they can help you

Ronan Levy 21:17

appreciate that was that true in 2016, like even taking psychedelics out of the equation, because there’s a whole conversation around drugs and the war on drugs and black and brown communities and how they retreated through that. But even just going to therapy, was that was that received with scorn? Or were people open to it?

Kenny Stills 21:35

Yeah, I didn’t, I didn’t say much to anybody, about me, just my partner at the time, the woman that I was dating knew, and, like, you know, the mindset coach, and that’s about it, maybe my head coach, because him and I had a good relationship at the time. And he really just cared about me and knew the backlash that was coming from the protests. You know, for people that don’t know, I grew up in Oceanside, California, which is by Camp Pendleton, a military base. So all of the influence, all the male influence in my life, were Marines, all my coaches, baseball, football, basketball, all military background, and then for high school, I went to school in a predominantly white area, that’s kind of like a surfer beach town. And so for me to take a knee during the national anthem, it was like, I’ve had everyone that had helped raise me and be a part of my life, you know, turn their back on me, because they thought I was, you know, anti military, anti police. And so, there was a point in time, my life where it was just like, my girl, and I, and you know, you know, a couple of people that really like, show their support, and had my back and everything else was just like, you know, Facebook messages from people that I, you know, parents of kids that I went to high school with, call me all types of crazy names and hate mail, like, handwritten hate mail. And so, you know, we go to games, and there’d be fans in the front row, like yelling, the N word, and all types of stuff. And it got to the point where, like, my teammates, or the the training staff, or the coaches that might not have respected what I was doing started to feel bad, because of the way that I was being treated. And I think, you know, that people really were worried, you know, about, like, where I was mentally because I was, you know, quiet an insane much, I started to just my whole perspective on life change, being an athlete, and being a good athlete, your whole life. People kind of not like cater to you, but they definitely like, I didn’t have any pushback in any in any places. You know, I was fairly quiet, good dude. You know, respectful discipline, like, you know, I did everything that I was, you know, asked to do. And so I never really had any pushback until the first time that I decide to speak up or speak out about something, you know, then I get a ton of pushback. And so my eyes are open. I’m like, Oh, well, damn, racism still exists. One. It’s, it’s global, too. And it’s, and it’s for them from people that I thought I loved and trust and knew the most, as well. And so eyes are really open. And it really just broke my heart, honestly. And so it put me in a place of hate. And it put me in a place of just complete, like darkness and sadness. And so I was pushed into getting therapy because I was tired of the way that I thought the way that I felt. And I wanted to do something about it. I didn’t want to treat people. I didn’t want to be a mirror for what was how people were treating me. And so I needed to get help. And so I went that way. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought or if, if people were gonna judge me or not like I knew that I was in control of my life. And I didn’t want to continue to go on the way that I was.

Ronan Levy 24:48

And this isn’t meant to be provocative, even though it may sound a little bit provocative. If it wasn’t anti military, what was like in your words, what was the impetus for taking the knee I know there’s like a broader are racist conversation but I’d be curious to know the texture of it and the color of it what was going through your head? And what what statement were you making from from Kenny stills?

Kenny Stills 25:10

At that point in my life 2016 I had never voted yet. Okay, for in so that was the election between Donald Trump in and Hillary Clinton. And so in order for me, I wanted to vote that year. And in order for me to vote, I need to be educated on politics. We didn’t grow up in a household where we talked about politics, I couldn’t tell you, Republican, Democrat, Independent, I couldn’t tell you anything about anything. Now, I’m no idiot. But we just did not talk politics in my house. It just wasn’t a conversation. So in order for me to vote, I had to get educated. So I started paying attention to current events, I watched all the debates, I did all the things that I felt like were going to help me be an educated voter. And as I started to pay attention, I started to see how often black and brown people were being killed by the police and how common it was for them to be doing nothing at all wrong for them to deserve this, and how common it was that there was no justice served for our people. And I felt like that was wrong, and wanted to do something about it. And so I saw what Colin was doing, I saw it Megan Rapinoe was doing, I saw it or Eric Reid was doing. And I saw that as an opportunity for me to tell people and show people that what’s happening is wrong, and that we need to do something about it. It was that simple. You know, and like I said, I knew nothing about politics, I knew nothing about government outside of what they had taught us in school, which wasn’t very much I didn’t know much about the space, I just had a feeling in my gut and in my heart that what was happening wasn’t right, and it wasn’t an accident. And so yeah, I decided to take a need to, to let people know that when I’m with the people and letting them know that, hey, we’re gonna do something about this. And that needs to be done about it. And it’s not okay. And as an athlete, and as a black. As I’m African American, I’m black and Mexican. And so to be able to stand up for people and say, Hey, like, we need to do something about this, and I want to be a part of the change.

Ronan Levy 27:10

What do you think was the biggest misconception for all those people who yell things at you or turn their back on you? What were they thinking of you and that was incorrect.

Kenny Stills 27:21

Um, I think that’s it’s hard to say for everyone, it’s different, you know. So like I said, my, my mentor from like, six years old, all the way into that moment until I decided to take a knee was was my popular coach, who was a Marine for, like, 30 plus years. And I called him the night before, to let you know, to get his advice on the situation, you know, long story short, he tells me, You know, I hope that you wouldn’t get involved in the protests. And you know, the people see the American flag as a symbol. And they felt like we were disrespecting the country, and we’re distracting the flag that we are disrespecting our military, you know, that go out and fight for all the freedoms that we have. And not just, I think the biggest misunderstanding was just the fact that people aren’t really educated, and don’t understand like nuance. And so if the only information that you know, is what you hear from what’s being told from some guy on the TV, or the radio station that you listen to, or whatever, you’re not doing any research on your own, and like we most of the time can’t really have a true, like conversation about anything, you’re just spewing and regurgitating, like, lines that you’re hearing from somebody else. And so a lot of times we spend time, I would have conversations with people, and they have these talking points, but like, don’t really, like have any real understanding to back them up. And so yeah, the misunderstanding was just basically the narrative that was, you know, told by Donald Trump at the time and by the media at the time, because like I said, I grew up all my mentors and military, why would I be against the military? Why would I be against the police? You know, we just want accountability from our, you know, by the police department and by our law enforcement. And, you know, if like, that’s something that can happen, you know, that police officer shouldn’t be above the law, you shouldn’t be able to just shoot somebody in their back and say that you you fear for your life. Like that doesn’t make any sense. No, no regular person can do that. They will be prosecuted. So So why does a police officer get to do that? And why do if why is it that if there are convicted, then they can go to another district and become a police officer in that place? Again, like there’s just the way that things are set up whether the system was set up was is it didn’t make sense, and it’s outdated and needed to be changed? And so yeah, I mean, when we sit down and really have conversation when people if you were to go to visit the African American history museums and learn about the history, and learn where police even come from in the United States, like all these things, it’s like it’s right They’re in front of us. But we don’t take the time to really get educated on issues that we care about, we just hear something, read a headline, and then we’re upset. And, and we can’t really make any progress with with that type of attitude or our style of, you know, paying attention to current events and hot topics, totally.

Ronan Levy 30:18

We did a podcast episode called, it’s about the nuance, because that’s what’s so sorely lacking, I think, in our society, which is you can be anti police brutality, without being anti police. And those are very different concepts. And with just a fraction of a section of consideration, you know, you can see the difference, but somehow that gets lost. And it’s entirely frustrating. And so one of the things that truthfully scares me about our society is that, you know, we can’t even have a conversation, people aren’t paying attention, they have their talking points, and they will talk about them, and they won’t listen. And I don’t know how you meet in the middle. And, you know, for, I don’t even know where it happened. But at some point, like, people became enemies, right, like, right versus left police, pro police, anti police became enemies, and they can’t have a conversation with your enemy. Most of the time, and it’s, it’s incredibly frustrating and scary, did that experience, change your perspective of, you know, the United States and the flag and all that kind of stuff, I’ve I’ve kind of come to the point in my life, where I feel like the notion of a nation state is probably one of the most damaging constructs we’ve ever created very functional from an administration perspective, but very damaging from just about every other perspective, and probably the source of a lot of the suffering that goes on in our society, not exclusively, but it, it seems like a really silly artificial construct for it to exist at all. And so I’m curious to know, if that experience changed your perspective of what it is to be an American, or to you know, belong to a country, or whether, you know, you still have your appreciation for the United States, just needing to advance the conversation,

Kenny Stills 32:03

I definitely feel different about the United States and the flag and all of all of things, United States of America, but I also understand, you know, how, what being here, what it’s done for me, and the position that it’s put, you know, myself and my family, and so, I am curious, you know, to explore what life is like, in other places, you know, I’m single, I don’t have any kids. And so I’m interested in, you know, traveling and figuring out if something else works for me, because I have the ability to do that, I’m in a position to be able to do that. And so, yeah, I don’t, I don’t, I just, I feel like we’re taking a lot of steps backwards. Here in the US, I feel like, our politicians don’t put the people before themselves. And I, that’s not a place that I necessarily feel like works for me. And so I don’t know, you know, it’s it’s on me to find a place that I feel like does work for me and a place that I feel like I want to build a family in and these things. And so I do feel differently about the United States. And when I do see the flag, I do feel like that is in some way or shape or form of, I definitely feel a little judgy, about when I see the American flag now people that are flying the American flag, so they have them out, I just feel like they it makes me a little skeptical, a little nervous. And it’s it’s shameful to say that, you know, it’s shameful to say, you know, negative things about about the country, but that’s the place that we’re in. And so I got into the mental health space, the personal wellness space, the psychedelic space, with a thought of helping myself and others heal, you know, and get to a place where we can run these systems of government in a way that is more beneficial for all of us in a place that we all coexist in a place that, you know, we’re looking, we’re all looking out for each other. And that comes from a place of love. And so to bring all of that back is like, Yeah, I’m worried about the place that we’re in as human beings and as in the United States. But that’s, that’s really why I’m here. And that’s why I choose, and I’m going to choose to, you know, continue to use the platform that I have, whether it be you know, on the big stage or on the small stage, you know, with friends and family and the people that I’m around to say, hey, we’ve got to do better as human beings. And I feel like I have a couple of ideas of ways that we can do that. And so let’s let’s work towards that.

Ronan Levy 34:30

Yeah, we had Carl Hart on the podcast a couple of months ago, and he said, You can’t be black and unconscious and live in America all year round. So he spends half his time in Switzerland probably resonates with you. Okay, let’s talk psychedelics. So what was your first experience with psychedelics and take us through that? I’d love to hear about your experience with field trips specifically, but let’s go back to you know, a black American who probably has not only received all of the messaging about drug being bad that anybody got in high school, but the unique circumstances of your community? When did you make the decision that this was an area of exploration for you? And what was it if you don’t mind sharing?

Kenny Stills 35:10

Yeah, no, we, I mean, we started casually using using drugs in high school. So mushrooms, ecstasy, whenever, like we were all doing together, you know, we we enjoyed ourselves if it was like a little teen night, or like a teen club, or whatever we were doing. But my first real experience, I would say, I think I came back from I graduated high school early and went to college. For like that winter semester, all my friends were still in school. And when I came back, after graduation, we all did like a hero dose of, of, of mushrooms together at one of my friend’s house houses. And that was my true first experience, I guess, tripping if you want to say, and I actually was a bad one. And my perspective, or a theory on bad trips, quote, unquote, is just things that are in the subconscious, or things that are that we haven’t dealt with coming up, coming out to play, and coming and showing up. And so I actually felt like, and this was something that, you know, I don’t know if it was true or not, or something that I was making up in my head. But I felt like, my friends were, like, there was like, this feeling of jealousy from my friends of like, the success that I was having. And so I separated myself from them. And just like, was going around my friend’s house, and like, they had a bunch of artwork and stuff. And so I was just like, by myself on this trip, as I started to feel anxious, and just like weird, and like that negative energy. So that wasn’t, that was my first experience was just like, Okay, we were all together, having a good time. And then all of a sudden, the energy shifted, I was feeling this, like, weird sense of like anxiety, and like this jealousy in the room. And so I just separated myself from that energy and went and just kind of like focused on music, and the paintings and artwork in the house. And, and that was that.

Ronan Levy 37:15

And in reflection, do you think that feeling was real?

Kenny Stills 37:20

I would think that it was not, I think that it was just more of the place that I was in, you know, being young, and feeling like, I had done something or like accomplish something or like, you know, I felt like I was just think like, my head was big, and my chest was out. And so I was like in my head about thinking like, Oh, damn, like, they think a certain way about me or feel a certain way about me based off of one comment being that I’m sensitive to communication, that I’m sensitive to body language, that I’m sensitive to people’s energy, like, I’m just a sensitive person, and not knowing that at the time, or not being comfortable exploring that or saying that, you know, it’s something that, you know, now that I’m 30 I’m like, Oh, shit, I am sensitive. I do care when people’s body language and their words do matter to me, you know. And so, thinking back now that that experience, I think it was just something I was in my own head about. But something that I also needed to come to the forefront so that I could figure out hey, buddy, you’re sensitive. And that’s okay. And when you know, when you don’t like something, go change the temperature, go put some music on go dupes. Do something else. And so, yeah, always, always try to reframe this idea of a bad trip to just the subconscious bringing up things that need to come to the forefront.

Ronan Levy 38:37

No, thank you for sharing that. It’s, it’s a conversation that seems to come up a lot these days in my circles, which is sensitive men who spent their whole lives guarding against that sensitivity for fear of it being weak, but it’s coming up so often. And I certainly the same way for me, which is I would never have considered myself to be sensitive. And actually, we’ve been going through and making this documentary, ordinary trip. And the first time someone said something, and it actually landed with me was our psychiatrist. Hans in the Netherlands, who I did an intake with and a subsequent interview, he identified that I was a sensitive person, and then I put up all these guards to protect myself from that. And it totally landed. And it’s like, oh, yeah, and just conversation after conversation with men. I’m meeting more and more men coming out saying, Yeah, I’m actually a very sensitive soul. And it’s, it’s really cool to share that experience, and then come out and be honest about it. Because I think of all if there’s one single thing we could do to change the trajectory of all the political things that we just talked about, getting men to open up that side of themselves, I think, could probably create the single largest impact of anything we can be doing right now. Um, because so much of what we experienced that’s challenging is, you know, a great distortion of like, what the masculine can and should be. And so thank you for for being open and honest about that. When was the first time you came out of the psychedelic closet? Kind of publicly? And how is that received?

Kenny Stills 40:21

Well, I mean, with your private circles, all my friends, you know, the people around me pretty much no, I’m very comfortable with, like, my mom, and, you know, my parents and that type of stuff, just, we’ve always just kind of had that type of relationship. So people close to me, I’ve always known that, you know, I like to explore and, but publicly, was recently, I mean, you know, when we started working together, and I started talking about microdosing, a little bit publicly, and it was really just because of, I saw the benefits and what it could do for people, you know, and we had a close friend of ours to take his life, and, you know, to be working so closely in the mental health space, and to lose somebody, just understanding, you know, the different like, not understanding that, like, you know, you could have such a close relationship with people, you could talk to them every day, they could know that you’re working on mental health stuff, they could come to my, you know, still growing summit and be a part of that, and you know, all the information, be there and still not help but not be able to, you know, find the ability to be able to reach out and connect in and make a change, you know, or really impact in a way that can make a difference. I just, you understand the power of the brain, and, you know, chemical imbalances, and just the different things that are happening. And so, it was time for me to say, hey, look, there’s a group of people, I have a platform. And I want people to know that, you know, there’s other ways for us to get help, and to potentially change, you know, where we’re at, in our perspective, and it was an opportunity for me to influence people in a positive way again, and so I felt like it was it was time and it was right.

Ronan Levy 42:02

And how was it received, when you came up? Came out more publicly about it?

Kenny Stills 42:06

I think it was received fairly well, honestly, a lot of people were curious, a lot of people trying to figure out, hey, you know, where can you know, they get stuff to help them? Or where’s the information? So a lot of questions. There wasn’t much negativity, honestly, at all. I don’t know how the League took it. I don’t know how, you know, potential employers took in or what have you. I haven’t gotten a job. So you know, I played last year for a little bit. Nobody said anything to me about it. But yeah, I mean, I felt like it was received fairly positive. Lee, I didn’t, I thought there would be a little bit more pushback. But there’s also, you know, like, my social media has all of the key word blocks, you know, blocks and all those things now, since since the protests, and so if anything, was said that was negative, I probably didn’t see it. So but ya know, received really well, a lot of people asking questions, a lot of people that are interested, a lot of people that want help a lot of people that want to get away from their, you know, prescription drugs that they’re using, and feel like this could potentially be the space for them. So I think that we need to get a move on what, you know, getting legalized and how we can help people here in the States.

Ronan Levy 43:16

Awesome. And Aaron Rodgers just came out publicly, I think you were mentioned in the article, as well. And any thoughts or feedback around that? And also, have you tried to have conversations with the NFL or the owners around this? Or if you haven’t, or there’s just like, no interest to have that conversation right now.

Kenny Stills 43:36

So the Aaron Rodgers stuff was really interesting. I think it opened a lot of eyes for people to see a successful white man talk about ayahuasca and psychedelics and this drug usage, I think, as a lot wider reach, in a sense, you know, MVP, Superbowl, all of those things. So I was really excited and just grateful that he put himself out there in that way. And shared because I think he opened a lot of eyes just with his conversation and just who he is, and his experience, so extremely positive there, and I haven’t had any conversations with the league about it, the league is pretty reluctant to work with me, just because they know that I’m a no nonsense, no bullshit type of dude. So there’s no fluff, when it comes to me, right? If you want to work with me, and then we’re going to do it a certain way. And that’s my expectation, or we won’t work together. And, and that’s cool, too. You know, and so, if I have ideas about stuff, I bring things up. I think they’re very just skeptical. Just because they know Hey, like I’m not going to shy away from from the truth of what I think is real. And I see huge opportunity for the NFL, or for MLB or for our, our soccer or any of the major sports leagues to get involved in the space, because one they can put Washing envelopes, but to buy so many they can help so many guys, and, and NFL in particular, they have haven’t done a good job with optics as of late. And so for them, it’s, you know, it’s a good story for them to say, hey, you know, for so many years, you know, we’ve covered up brain trauma and brain injuries, but, you know, now look at what we’re doing, you know, we’re on the forefront, you know, we’re pioneers in helping in this in this psychedelic space and figuring out how we can, you know, help regenerate do in regenerative medicine for the brain and help guys that are struggling, and it’s an easy way to, for them to take over their asses in a sense. And so, I mean, it’s a shame that that’s how you have to sell it to them. But I think those are the types of people that that we work with in that business. And so it’s like, it’s a good way for them to shape it. But it’s also they can do so much good for so many dudes. And so I hope to be able to have a conversation or to work with somebody else who has a better relationship with the league to push them to have those conversations, and continue to share with them, you know, the benefits and how we can help our retired guys and our guys that are playing at the moment.

Ronan Levy 46:08

It’s interesting, because many athletes, not all, but many athletes are held up to be role models, right. And so the platform that the NFL and the NBA and the NHL and MLB have to actually model, you know, pro social productive behaviors is so powerful, and they’re so reticent to talk about so much of this stuff. And in some ways I get it. Because, you know, just yesterday, I was listening to gab, or monta who just published a book called The Myth of normal talking about how much a lot of the suffering in our culture is a result of the hyper competition that we live in. And in many ways, professional athletes is the epitome of hyper competition, right? It is the ultimate of competition to short of all out or so I guess there is a somewhat inherently baked existential threat in in supporting the avenues for psychedelics within the leagues, but does seem like it would be such an incredible platform to shift the conversation and things forward. So certainly, there’s anything I can do to be of assistance, but I’m pretty sure the NFL is not paying attention to me right now, either. So it’s that I’m not sure if that moves the needle, but certainly, you know, you have my support,

Kenny Stills 47:27

it would be huge to be able to, you know, get field trip at, you know, the next player’s Association event, you know, to have a presentation and share with guys about, you know, the benefits and how it how I can help and, you know, that’s, that’s something that, you know, I continue to push for, but, you know, just just, I think the league has always been very reactionary, the most, you know, and so it’s, instead of being a pioneer in this space, they you know, they wait until now like you, you’ll see them, they just donated however much money to cannabis research and how marijuana helps with recovery. And it’s like, fan we’ve known what, what, what cannabis is can do for us for how long now? And yeah, just putting up this check for optics to say, Oh, look at what we’re doing. We’re doing research and all this stuff. And it’s just, and that’s the hardest part for me working with people. And that sense of like, I don’t want to do anything for show, whatever we’re doing, we’re doing because we have an opportunity to make an impact and make a change. If not, then let’s not do it. Just don’t do it at all. You know, don’t don’t write a check for for marijuana research, you know, you know, like cannabis is dumb. And like, let’s let’s do something real here. So we can, we can get involved and educate dudes in the Players Association. And hopefully they can move the needle. But until then we just keep doing what we’re doing.

Ronan Levy 48:51

Exactly. How was your experience with field trip? I’m curious to know is that your first true psychedelic assisted therapy experience? And was it your first experience with ketamine Tell me all about it is the first time we’ve actually spoken directly about it. So I’d love to hear from her mouth.

Kenny Stills 49:05

Yeah, so was not my first experience with ketamine. But I was even more interested in because of the my casual usage with ketamine. And yeah, it was my first experience with any type of assisted therapy. And I mean, obviously, my experience was a positive one. But just very, like, heavy in a sense of, I left really light but the experience like was the was the deepest that I’ve had with any psychedelic that I’ve used. And yeah, it was really like using the wave path stuff. Wave path is like a game changer, you know, with the music and being able to that really like controlled kind of the destination, the destiny where I was going. So every time you know the songs would change, like where I I was in perspective of like, My trip was changing. And I, the thing that I took away from it the most was this visual that I had of this, like human, it wasn’t a human form, but it had like a wolf, sheep’s head on it. And it was like in like an old shoe like old native like a chief. And it was like this human that had this wool sheep head on it, and it was like, ascending at a rapid pace, like straight up. And it just felt so like. I felt like I was seeing like a representation of myself in a way of like, leadership, right, that Chief would have, like this big wolf will have had on him, and understanding like the power that I had. And using that power for good, and knowing that it wasn’t, you know, that there was, it was like a reminder to me that like, Hey, you’re in this place, you have this position. And there’s, like, I felt like, we were in a sense, like on the up and up, regardless of if like, you know, where my career was, or how I felt about my life at the point or any of those things. Like, I felt like, it was a reminder of, hey, you have you have this power. And you have to continue to build yourself because the direction that we’re going is up, you know, and we’re going to continue to be to be progressing in a way. And I saw a lot of like, temples, like all the rooms, every room that I was like, in or like every picture, every perspective that shifted and changed was like in a shape in the shape of a temple. Sometimes they were really dark. Sometimes they were really like, live and visual, like I was at like a, like a temple in the jungle, one time and just like almost on like a bird’s eye view of this temple. And then the music would shift, and then I’d be in another temple and it would be pitch black. And it’s just me in there. And that’s when I had to actually ask if the therapist was in there. I’m like, am I am I here? Like, am I still here? Because I was so disassociated that I didn’t think that I was still where I was. And she’s like, Yeah, I’m here, I’m here. And then she came over and held my hand and then then boom, then it was over. And it was really quick. And I think it’s because I’ve had, I think it was maybe like 15 or 20 minutes, but it was I think I needed more a bigger dose. And, you know, I’ve had used ketamine before. So I think I had built up a tolerance to it. And so but yeah, I just had this very, like, uplifting, deep experience, and I’m excited for my next.

Ronan Levy 52:34

Awesome and how did what was the therapy afterwards, like, because I think a lot of people don’t really understand psychedelic assisted therapy, the thing that psychedelics and I asked therapy, but what came out in the actual therapy about how to translate that experience into something that’s tangible, and that can hold on to and

Kenny Stills 52:51

I think that was what was different at first to was like, you don’t know, if you want to share the things that you’re seeing. So that like, they can take notes, or if you want to just keep all the things to yourself. And so it’s this, I think it’s, I would always recommend people to do more than one session, a couple of sessions, at least just to get comfortable one with the exploration, but then to with, you know, having somebody in the room with you, because you come from, you know, you know, being around friends or people that you know, to, you know, being with somebody who, you know, is a professional. And so, yeah, it was just interesting to be able to just kind of talk and share, like what I’m seeing, and then to be able to kind of go through and her and I talk about, you know, what I was seeing and what those things could potentially mean based off of, you know, what I shared with her about my life and some of the things that were going on. And yeah, it just, it’s almost like, if you were to have your own casual experience, and then be sitting there taking notes, and then wake up the next morning and then be able to be like, Oh, okay, now I can dig a little bit deeper, dive a little bit deeper into what I was seeing and the experience that I was having. And then it becomes more a part of you, you know, then just like having this experience, and then you know, falling asleep or whatever. And then kind of getting up the next day, remembering the little bits and pieces of you know, if you can really like have someone there looking after you and and, and like taking notes on your experience and you’re able to like have those conversations and then really, they can become a part of you instead of just like a one off thing. Totally.

Ronan Levy 54:27

Thank you. Thank you for sharing all of that. It sounds like it was a very profound and certainly very visual experience. But I know I’ve been caught in those moments where you’re like, I know I left somewhere and I don’t know if that’s where I’m going back to and then you realize you have a body again you’re like okay, yeah, I know. It’s nice to have that that person’s hand to hold to be like no yet. No, there’s still people here. Okay. Tell us about the Kenny stills foundation and you’re still growing initiative. I know. We touched on it a little bit but what is what is your hope? What is your goal? Are the initiatives underway there?

Kenny Stills 55:01

Yeah. So the kidney cells Foundation has an arm called still growing, which we run the still growing summit through. And that is a one day summit that talks about and everything. In the wellness space. We ran our first one in 2019. Before COVID. In Miami, we had 300 people there 200 kids, and then like, and then 100 parents or guardians of those kids, and we split the room, the parents up into their own room and the kids into two other rooms. And we had speakers come in three speakers, one talking about mindset, gratitude, positive self talk, the other talking about trauma, what is trauma, positive coping mechanisms to trauma, breathing, meditation, sandbags, journaling, etc. And then one room full of a meditation and breathing exercise, just to give people an introduction, we talked about goal setting, we talked about proper nutrition, and how you know how that plays a part in our daily life. And I shared my story with the kids. You know, while we were there in life, I think that this is important while we were at a mental health camp instead of a football camp, which a lot of other athletes run. And the goal really is just to give our young people the tools to be able to handle the things that happen in life. And we focus, you know, a lot in the black and brown communities because we want to talk about, about mental health. And it’s a taboo topic, you know, for a lot of people, but especially within black and brown communities. So it was important for me as a black man to get up on stage and talk about mental health, we had a black therapist there, we had another black man come in that was in the public eye to have, like a roundtable talks, at least all three, you know, black or brown men on stage talking about their feelings, talking about their experiences, and really just normalizing this conversation. But for me, it’s really just about giving our people the tools, you know, I took everything that I’m, that was beneficial for me in my growth process from 16 to 18, I would say it took me about two years to to come from underneath the dark cloud that I was under. I don’t like the word depression. So I don’t say depression, I call it a cloud. And, and so I was under, I was under this dark cloud for a couple of years. And then I started to see the sun a little bit. And at that point, in time, when I was starting to see a little bit of the sun, I was like, Yo, I got to share all this stuff with with the with the youth, because you shouldn’t be 2829 30 just finally getting an idea of how to handle some of these issues. You know, if we can have a touch point with a eight 910 year old, and they can remember one thing from this from this summit, then, you know, when the time’s right, you know, that can help them and maybe they won’t make some of the same mistakes that I made. Maybe they don’t have to, you know, hurt people or, or you know, like, and so that was really, that was really the motivation for me. And we’re going to be running to in San Diego this summer. So we’re excited to have that up and going again, and to be able to continue to reach out to our young people and continue to just share all of the resources that are out there for us to heal and to be the best version of ourselves.

Ronan Levy 58:34

That’s awesome, man, congratulations, what are the other arms of the Kenny stills foundation doing?

Kenny Stills 58:39

So that’s the other arms are a work in progress. But we the things that I really care about are providing kids and young people opportunities outside of the things that they already do. I think my life really changed when my mom moved me from the area that I grew up to the area that I went to high school and so we I really want to get involved in and partner with other organizations that are taking kids on field trips, museums, you know, if it’s a kid that lives in the inner city that’s never been to the beach. What have you just getting involved with helping our young people have experiences outside of their neighborhood? Because I think you know, that’s when the light really turned on for me. You know, I have this story of saying like, I went to my friend’s house in high school and we they had a walk in pantry. You know, I grew up in a apartment my whole life. And I seen a walk in pantry. And it like blew my mind like a pantry. They got snacks in here they got food in here like what like it just like what and then I wrote you know, I put two and two together that I could I had a talent that could help me get something like this for my family and I know it’s it sounds dumb and small but like when you grow up in an apartment your whole life you see something like that it can you know, I’m like, wow, what like it really just blew my mind. And so I look at having the opportunity to provide an experience like that for someone young. And just understanding like, hey, there is other things outside of our neighborhood, our street, our school, our, what have you. And hopefully, we can be, you know, part of you know that that light that turns on for young people to say, Hey, Dan, there’s so much out there in this world and, and that’s all for me, you know, I can go out there and get that too. And so that portion, and then my dream really is to have some type of like a holistic health like health center Wellness Center, I think about like, the opportunity for us to be able to democratize our health, you know, I think you go to the hospital now, and you have somebody, you know, diagnose you, and then they tell you what you should do. And I feel like it should be more of a situation where you go to the hospital, they diagnose you, and then they give you the options of what’s out there, you know, your the holistic ways you can help yourself, here are the ways you can, you know, other ways you can help yourself. But here are all the options. And so, in the process of the next, you know, couple of years, or however long it takes me, that’ll be something that I’ll continue to try and be around or help influence. And just know that, you know, I can’t do everything on my own. But I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. But that’s something that I want to be a part of, and continue to encourage people to search out and be a part of for themselves.

Ronan Levy 1:01:23

I resonated with your statement that you don’t like the word depression. And I’ve been reading some alternative perspectives on mental health or recently and one of the viewpoints is that depression, we pathologize depression, like it’s something wrong with us. And the point that was made was actually depression is a perfectly appropriate response to demoralization. And so it’s like that’s actually a healthy response. It’s not something wrong with us, its bodies, our bodies and our minds are working as they’re supposed to do. You got to change the inputs, such that the demoralization doesn’t happen. But the converse I’m going to get back to your you know, great story about the pantry. Hope is the opposite right? To see your the demoralisation Hope is the response to opportunity and growth and freedom and exploration. And so as much as a pantry may feel like a small thing, I think it’s actually a great parable for a conversation that needs to be happening. So with that, I think that’s a beautiful place to stop. And so I wanted to a thank you for joining us today. Thank you for being a part of the field trip story. Thank you for trusting us to go through our experience a while ago, and again, wanted to extend my personal invitation, anything you’re working on, I’d love to support it, whether it’s helping build that center or knocking down the doors of the NFL owners, let me know that would love to keep that dialogue open and see what we can do together because there’s lots that needs to be done. And I think a few sensitive men out there can can do a lot to moving those needle so

Kenny Stills 1:02:57

100% Atlanta, thank you, I appreciate it. I appreciate your time. I’m always you know, following what you all are doing and trying to continue to just build up my toolkit, you know, and educate myself and so I look forward to continuing to do that and we’ll be in a part of what fieldtrips got going on and I’m sure you’ll get to see a lot more of me now that you know I’ll be turning the page on on football and and exploring what else is out there for me and how I can make an impact