Welcome to The Quazcast – a weekly podcast that brings listeners in on a frank conversation between myself and a random person from the world of sports.
I might speak with a 90-year-old NFL kicker one week, the manager of a Major League Baseball team the next, and a bull fighter the week after that. The Quazcast is about digging deep and avoiding the cliché question and answers that too often plague sports interviews.
This week’s guest is former New York Giants running back Jarrod Bunch. A former first round pick out of Michigan in 1991, Bunch has moved on from his brief professional football career to make a name for himself in the world of acting.
After being named Giants Offensive Player of the Year in just his second season with the team – he was tied for second in the NFL with 4.8 yards per carry – he suffered a debilitating knee injury that eventually forced him to retire in 1995. Bunch then went on to train in mixed martial arts as a means of rehabbing his injury, and eventually found himself in New York also training to be an actor. Since then, Bunch has appeared in such films as Only in America: The Don King Story and Django Unchained.
Below is an excerpt of our conversation and a recording of our complete interview. To get future podcasts downloaded straight to your listening device, you can subscribe to The Quazcast on iTunes.
Jeff Pearlman: When you were a rookie in 1991, a first round pick, 27th overall for the New York Giants, did you have to quote-on-quote pay your dues to any degree?
Jarrod Branch: Yeah, I did, the thing about it is that I knew I was going to have to go through it and did I like it? No.. I had to go through it in college, when you’re a freshman in college you have to go through it.
JP: Let me interrupt you, I remember I interviewed, I don’t know if you knew Robert Jones, he was a linebacker who played in Miami, I interviewed him for a book I wrote on the Cowboys and he told me when he showed up in Miami they took all the freshman and they pinned them down and they shaved their heads, he said he would not allow it, he fought back, wouldn’t allow it and that whole year was filled with misery for him because he wouldn’t go along.
JB: That’s it, you know if you just let it go, the people who don’t really fight back or really don’t put up a lot of resistance it’s over, it’s like it happens at that time and it’s over. The people who fight back and show some resistance, they know they got you, they know that every time they give you some type of something they’re going to get a reaction from you and that’s what they’re looking for.
The upperclassmen who are not secure with themselves, that’s the only power that they will have in life really, is getting a response from a person, when they don’t get a response they leave them alone. When they do get this response and they find the person, oh every time I know can get a response from him, I can feel some power when I do something to this person, that’s the person they always pick on.
JP: The one thing I find interesting and I saw today even on Facebook, people were commenting and Facebook is the new sad gauge of everything but Richie Incognito used racial slurs, he used them before in his life, it was caught on video, I feel like there are some things that can’t be taken out of context and I feel like using the N-word, no matter what the context unless you’re just describing a Snoop Dogg lyric, he sent text messages to Jonathan Martin, who comes from a bi-racial background, using the N-word too.
I was surprised to see his teammates actually defending him, even African-America teammates defending him and that’s the one thing that kind of baffled me a little bit because it seems like some things are very unforgivable and that strikes me as one of them but I guess not maybe.
JB: I’ve seen that too, I’ve heard it and my take on that is that the use of the word has become acceptable and when I say acceptable I’m saying acceptable period. Not just if you’re black you can say it, now it’s whatever race you are, if you grew up in a black area or you grew up hanging around people of color and they somehow accept you as one of them then you can say it too.
I don’t like to get into the discussion because there’s no winning, there will always be someone who feels a certain way on either side. With him (Incognito) and the team that’s coming out, I think and I have nothing to back up what I’m saying, but just my feeling is that the Miami Dolphins themselves are taking a big hit on this thing.
The coach has said, listen, we’re a team, we’re the Miami Dolphins, everyone won’t be here next year but the Miami Dolphins will be and it’s our job to make sure that they continue on so I think that the team is like all coming together as a team and the coach is trying to use this as something, they’ve still got football games to play and I think they’re trying to bring themselves in as a team and use this to propel them and pull them together instead of breaking them apart.
The team was actually having a pretty good year and I don’t think it should be looked at as this was the turning point where they threw the rest of the season away because of these events and that’s what the coach is telling them, now you see guys coming out, backing them up and standing behind them.
JP: You know what I find very interesting is that, I didn’t see the conversation going this way but you’re very fascinating in the area, I’ve been working on a story on the one year anniversary of the death of Jovan Belcher, the Kansas City Chief linebacker who shot his girlfriend and then went to the Kansas City facility last year and shot himself in front of the coach and the general manager.
I was thinking Jovan Belcher, I was thinking Jonathan Martin, we sort of have these assumptions Jarrod that you guys being football players and pro athletes in general are living the life and that everything is great and you’re making great money and you’re playing in packed stadiums and this is just the greatest ever, this is the culmination of a dream, what do you have to be upset about, what do you have to be depressed about, you don’t have any problems you’re driving a Rolls Royce or a Bentley, it’s not that simple is it?
JB: It’s far from being that simple, playing football is an actual job, it is a job, no matter what you hear what people see on Sundays is what’s fun about playing football, but there’s so much that goes into those two to three hours on Sunday or Monday night or Sunday night or Thursday night, there’s so much more that goes into it and when I say pressure, it’s pressure that you are fighting for your job, to keep your income to continually come into your house by doing something every single day that only comes down to a Sunday, a Monday or a Thursday.
JP: So Jarrod comes in, 1991, plays 16 games and only starts one, then 1992 has an excellent year, starts 13 games, runs for 501 yards. 1993, it was in camp when you suffered your injury, and what happened exactly? Do you recall?
JB: Yeah, absolutely, it was our first full scrimmage and it was our first year with Dan Reeves and usually the first team, if it’s the first team offence against the second team defence it’s everything except live tackling, everything is live except you don’t tackle and you don’t take the ball carrier down, with Dan Reeves everything was live, everything period.
It was the first scrimmage with the second team and pop, boom, tore my knee up.
JP: What was it like? What did that pain feel like? I know it’s been a long time but how would you describe that pain because most of us will never experience that.
JB: Ah man, I imagine it would be like breaking a bone, because when it happened the leg bent in an extreme way and you can hear the pops, pop, pop, pop and you try to stand up, you know, do whatever you can to get up and it’s just not working, I won’t forget that.
For years every time I saw someone running the ball I was looking for the same thing, where are their legs, how did they get tackled because if you look at almost every play it’s like literally inches, if a person didn’t move their foot or their knee in a different angle it could have been snapped.
Almost every play and for years, that’s why I didn’t like to watch football that much, that’s all I was looking at, everything was ah, ah, ooh, ah, that’s me watching.
JP: So you were able to come back, but is coming back after an injury like that, is it coming back but not really coming back?
JB: Mentally you think that you are ready to come back, I thought I was ready to come back but in my mind I was saying move here and it was literally like that, I was saying move here and in the pros if you have to say move here it’s too late, that here has now moved so I was a step behind, a step slower, my reaction time was slower and it just wasn’t the same.
To hear the entire interview – including more on NFL culture, Bunch’s thoughts on concussions and brain injuries in football, and making the transition from athlete to actor - you can download the podcast here or listen below.
Jeff Pearlman is a former senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He is the author of six books including Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, The Bad Guys Won (a biography of the 1986 New York Mets) and Boys Will Be Boys (an account of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty from the 1990s). His newest book – Showtime (due to be released on February 11, 2014) - explores another famous sports dynasty: the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.