If there is one voice in American soccer concerning concussions, it is Taylor Twellman. It is a voice that he understands grates on players and fans at times, but one that he will not stop using. He is currently moving from his personal Twitter and media crusade to raise awareness to the creation of a clearinghouse website for concussion related information, data and resources at ThinkTaylor.org. The Seattle Sounders were cautious in putting Terry Boss back in practice after his concussion from the Manchester United game, and a large part of that was due to league rules that Twellman helped develop. On Monday he and I talked extensively about concussions in MLS and American sports.
Sigi Schmid experienced Ross Paule's attempted comeback, as well as Chad Marshall's recovery. Yet, despite that caution, Boss still suffered a second concussion and is now on a lower pressure path to recovery as he will be out for the remainder of the season as he seeks treatment from experts, something Twellman has pushed for some time. Twellman equates the older attitude of having a orthopedic surgeon evaluate and treat concussions to going to an optometrist for a broken foot. If there is one thing I learned during our discussion about the dangers of head injuries in sports, the potential permanence of their symptoms and the road to recovery, it is that he is driven to change the way American sports think about the injury.
I have high lofty goals. I was a center forward. I look at what LIVESTRONG did for cancer, and I want to do that for concussions. I don't want people to be scared about concussions. I just want them to be proactive. When you hear of everything in the news about concussions, there is that scared element of 'what do we do? Oh my god my kid is going to die?' Well no, if we treat it the right way it will go away and they'll be fine. That half-full glass is the mentality [we want]. Let's get the kid out of play. Here's what we are going to do and hopefully they get better.
When Taylor Twellman speaks of lofty goals, and points to being a center forward it is a reminder that he was one of the greatest goal-scoring forwards the league has seen. He is 6th all-time with 101 goals in league play, and of players with 90 or more goals did it playing in fewer games and fewer minutes than anyone. Of the top 25 goal scorers in the league, none have a higher Goals per 90. Like any great athlete, his determination to succeed is what helped him. Also like so many athletes, that determination and pride affected how he responded to his concussions.
In April Twellman talked to Scott Helman of the Boston Globe about his injury (video here, at 1:11 you see him say "I got a concussion") and how he did not leave the game at the time. But he also passed the tests.
Twellman believes he would be playing today had he been removed from that 2008 Galaxy game and kept on the sidelines afterward to heal. He doesn’t blame the Revolution exactly, and he acknowledges that he and other athletes cannot be trusted to say, "Take me out." Plus, he says, he never failed the neurocognitive test used by the team. But it’s evident he resents that the Revolution did not recognize the seriousness of his injury. He told me: "You think I’m gullible enough to think that they didn’t say, ‘Well, let’s just put him through this?’ But there’s also no hard feelings there. Because I understand that."
Today, during our conversation, he still has similar sentiments, while making an aggressive case for players and teams to take a much more active role in how they address the dangers of brain trauma.
It is as important for the player as to the teams to have better knowledge, understanding and where-with-all about when to take a player out of the game. Second is that if any player now days doesn't want to tell the team doctor or trainer about concussions than shame on you. There are examples, as we've seen in the NHL with three players with suspicious deaths all coming from enforcer type players, we've seen Sidney Crosby, we're seeing the NFL being sued by players...and we're only at the tip of the iceberg of knowing what the true damage is. If you get a blow to the head and you feel at all abnormal than I'm going to struggle with any player [that stays in the game]. That bothers me still. You are playing with your life. You can get your ankle replaced, your knee replaced, your arm, what ever you want. You can not replace your brain.
It is a sobering discussion to have on a Monday morning for me. It is a discussion that he has just before he goes to his first meeting with a specialist for the first time in about six weeks. But it is a topic that is near to his heart. Whether on Twitter, or through phone interviews, he sees this as an opportunity to do more than just score goals in a game.
I did go to a Jesuit high school [we earlier chatted about St Louis High] and the motto was "A Man For Others." Unfortunately it took me a little while, but once I knew that I could never play the sport again, and no one was there to help me. There were guys ahead of me, like a Josh Gross, a Ross Paule, Alecko Eskandarian, Chad Marshall, but no one was really willing to reach out, and something in my gut has been telling me, 'you are going to take some slack for it' and I have. People on facebook and twitter have told me enough is enough, stop preaching to the choir, stop playing the martyr act about concussions. At the end of the day it is not a martyr act, it is the truth. The only way to increase awareness is to beat the door. I'm trying to do that. It is unfortunate because I could still be playing, and playing at a high level, but on the other hand maybe this is the path that God set out for me.
And he does. Every day, with every sport he watches. He's a lot like you in that he loves sports, but when a head injury occurs he immediately speaks out about it. He wants the word "mild" removed from all discussion about concussions because it gives fans and players false timelines. It is an injury to the brain, and while some symptoms could be mild, the amount of damage to the organ is nearly impossible to know without an expert. The healing an individual process.
The Sounders have done the right thing by putting Terry Boss on the shelf for the season. It removes the pressure and puts the healing at the forefront.
I hope he gets better as soon as possible. Not for his career, but so he can live his life normally and he can make the educated decision whether or not to keep playing.
As Taylor Twellman continues to grow ThinkTaylor.org he knows that he is a symbol of what this injuries do, and he wants you as fans, parents and players to think about him, and what ended his career. That was his first step for his site and organization. Most of all, it is clear that he wants athletes in every sport to view this injury very differently than any other. He wants them to be seen by a specialist and to not rush back early.