Taylor Twellman on Soccer, Concussions and Giving Back To Soccer
Here is the story of ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman – One of MLS All Time Top Goal Scorers – whose professional soccer career was cut short by concussions. Concussions are a serious problem in soccer and there is a huge need for greater awareness.
Concussions ended American soccer player Taylor Twellman stellar career prematurely. Finally, significant conversation on concussions are happening in the world of soccer but the question remains, “How big a threat are concussions for pro players and are we taking this threat seriously?”
One of MLS’s MVPs, Taylor Twellman was a prolific scorer. In his all-too-short, eight-year career playing for New England Revolution, Twellman scored 101 goals and was the youngest and fastest player in league history to reach the 100-goal plateau. Today Twellman’s goals still hold him in seventh place in the MLS record books with Landon Donovan taking the #1 spot with 144 goals. On Twellman’s heels are Edson Buddle with 100 goals scored followed by Chris Wondolowski with 93 goals.
What happened to Twellman? This goal-scoring machine known for hat-tricks suffered a concussion on August 30th, 2008 while playing against the LA Galaxy. Twellman says the biggest mistake of his life was not seeking medical attention after a concussion. This concussion was not his first but his 7th and last on the field. And the worst part, Twellman stayed on the field and finished playing the match after he was punched in the face. Fierce determination on the soccer field is no match for Traumatic Brain Injury.
It was game day against LA Galaxy on August 30, 2008 and Twellman had scored for the third straight match. In the 22nd minute of the match, Twellman was heading in Khano Smith‘s cross and took a punch to the face from Steve Cronin, Galaxy’s goalkeeper. Initially, Twellman needed stitches after the game to close the wound but the unseen injury was much worse.
Today, Twellman is the lead ESPN soccer analyst. Last November, Twellman signed an unbelievable eight-year deal with the network to be the lead analyst on ESPN’s soccer coverage. Once called by Cosmopolitan Magazine “One of the 51 Hottest Bachelors in the U.S.,” Twellman is royalty of the American game and part of soccer’s success today. And, he is giving back with his organization Think Taylor created to create social change in the world of Traumatic Brain Injury. Twellman is also an ambassador for TeamRunner, the Sports Travel Solutions company.
Diane Scavuzzo: When you were injured in August 2008 playing for the against the LA Galaxy, did you think your playing career was over?
Taylor Twellman: No – I would be lying if I said I was educated.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you regret staying in the game?
Taylor Twellman: Yes, of course – I should have left the field immediately. If only better decisions were made. It was not my first concussion. I played the next eight weeks – Can you believe it?
Diane Scavuzzo: Do most people realize how serious concussions are?
Taylor Twellman: No. Parents and coaches are not educated enough – more often than not, the parents are making the medical decisions without any medical or athletic training.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does this happen?
Taylor Twellman: Parents living through their children, thinking the game going on at that moment is the most important game of their lives, and not really their kid is only 9 years old. People get caught up in the moment and need to be educated.
My life was completely changed by concussions. Concussions end careers and can ruin lives.
Diane Scavuzzo: What symptoms did you experience?
Taylor Twellman: The usual concussion-like symptoms following head injuries like headaches.
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you first fall in love with soccer?
Taylor Twellman: My idol was my father – he played soccer professionally. Growing up, I loved and played many sports – golf, baseball and soccer were my favorites – it wasn’t until I was asked to give up playing soccer to focus on baseball for the Kansas City Royals that I realized I couldn’t give up soccer, but I could give up baseball.
Diane Scavuzzo: What advice can you give youth players who want to be powerful professional forwards and hope to score 100 goals in the MLS?
Taylor Twellman: Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” You can’t score unless you shoot but if your shot is not on goal then you need to work harder.
You have to get chances but keeping it simple is important.
Diane Scavuzzo: How often did you practice?
Taylor Twellman: I played everyday. I never played video games indoors.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was your biggest career disappointment? Not playing for Bruce Arena on his USMNT roster for the 2006 World Cup?
Taylor Twellman: Not playing longer – it is hard for any athlete who does not get the most out of their ability. At age 28, for your career to end ….
Not representing the US in the 2006 World Cup or winning MLS Cup are the two biggest disappointments. I feel I would have played in the 2010 World Cup if I didn’t get injured.
I was never told why Bruce left me off the World Cup roster – that tells me that it was a difficult decision – I guess I just didn’t fit that 23 squad. When 75% of the roster calls you after the announcement and said that I should have been picked instead of them, you know you have the respect of your teammates.
Diane Scavuzzo: Tell us about Think Taylor
Taylor Twellman: Think Taylor is my organization to on Traumatic Brain Injury – it is about increasing awareness and educating people. As a professional player, you become ambassadors of the game after your career. The game of soccer it doesn’t stop when you retire.
Diane Scavuzzo: With over 250K Twitter fans and a reputation of a news breaker on social media, you know how to harness the power of social media. What do you like most about social media?
Taylor Twellman: It is shaping the game – celebrities and people on TV should connect with their fans. I think it is wonderful that during a soccer game, people can connect with the owner and former players.
Diane Scavuzzo: Any tips for social media?
Taylor Twellman: You have to be extremely smart what you do in public and post. You are never really off work.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are you doing with TeamRunner? They are an online travel solution connecting athletes, teams and sports organizations to make sports travel easier.
Taylor Twellman: You asked me earlier about giving back – to me, that is kind of what TeamRunner is doing. For a sports organization, TeamRunner takes away the pain of travel and then it gives back with a scholarship fund. My father was impressed with them and introduced me to the company. TeamRunner makes life easier for teams to travel and helps support players. It is about giving back. (TeamRunner gives up to five percent of its net revenue back to local sports organizations.)
After his head injury, Twellman was only able to make two substitute appearances in June of 2009 before announcing his retirement at the end of the 2010 season.
And, yes, Twellman scored in both games earning his 100th and 101st career MLS goals after sustaining the concussion that ended his career. Whether or not the MLS and New England Revolution ignored Twellman’s concussions in 2008, the question is today, are we doing enough?
Have attitudes changed from the grin and bear it approach (take two aspirin and toughen up) to one that recognizes life is made up of trillions of moments and coming off the field immediately after a possible concussion is the only smart choice.
Twellman wants people to know that concussions can happen to anyone. Twellman wants players to know the symptoms: nausea, feeling foggy, sleeping, headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light/sound, difficulty focusing and vision problems are just some of the frequent symptoms of concussions.
Editorial Note: This article was originally published February 2015 and republished.