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Taylor Twellman's New "ThinkTaylor" Initiative Puts Concussion Awareness Center Stage
Former MLS star and ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman (right, with Washington Youth Soccer President Doug Andreassen [middle] and Golazo founder and CEO Richard Tait) visited Seattle in October to screen the new film, "Head Games," and share information about concussion awareness.
Even now, more than four years after the collision that ended his playing career and changed his life forever, it's still hard for Taylor Twellman to talk about it.
The former U.S. Men's National Team and New England Revolution star visited Seattle in October to provide color commentary for ESPN's broadcast of the Sounders' pivotal game against FC Dallas on Oct. 20. Two nights before the game, however, he and Golazo CEO Richard Tait hosted a group of approximately 100 local youth soccer leaders — coaches, administrators, parents and media members — at Golazo's Capitol Hill headquarters for a screening of the new film "Head Games," a 95-minute documentary about the effects of concussions on athletes young and old.
From 2002-2009, Twellman scored 101 MLS goals — still the sixth-highest career total in league history — and made 30 appearances with the U.S. Men's National Team, including a hat-trick performance against Norway in a 2006 friendly. Twellman was 28 years old and one of MLS' brightest stars on the night when he was accidentally struck in the head by L.A. Galaxy goalkeeper Steve Cronin.
Less than eight months later, his soccer career was over.
"I didn't even realize at the time that I had a concussion," Twellman told the assembled audience prior to the showing of "Head Games." "I knew something was wrong, but I thought I'd get over it, that it would just go away."
It didn't. Twellman finished the season in a daze. There were times, he recalls, when he'd be on the field and lose track of where he was, what he was doing, or the game situation. In one game, he recalls firing a shot towards goal and celebrating as if it had gone in — apparently unaware that it had missed the net entirely.
And the effects of Twellman's injury go far beyond the soccer field.
"I haven't been to a movie theater in four years," he told the group at Golazo. "I can't play video games. I can't even read a book; I lose track of what I'm reading, and get headaches.
"Other injuries can take away your season or your career. Brain injuries take away your whole life."
In the film (which can be viewed online here), former Harvard defensive lineman Chris Nowinski leads a team of researchers from across the country on a quest to study the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries — "concussions." His findings — namely, that brain injuries are far more common than popularly assumed, and have much more serious long-term impacts (even from just one such instance) than previously realized — are frightening to any parent, coach or youth athlete. Which, Twellman says, is precisely why he declined to appear in the film when his friend, Nowinski, asked him to.
"I think that what Chris is doing with Head Games and the folks at Boston University (where Nowinski's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy is headquartered) is great," Twellman says, "but I don't want to simply scare people with the effects of concussions. I think it's more important to educate parents, coaches and especially the kids about how to prevent them, and how to treat them.
"When I had my concussion, I had no idea what it was, or what to do. I sat in a dark room for weeks, months, not sleeping, becoming severely depressed," he says. "If I had more knowledge about what I was going through, and how to get proper treatment, I might still be playing today."
To that end, Twellman has established a foundation, THINKTAYLOR, designed to provide athletes and their families with resources to guide them in the event of a concussion. In addition to linking to numerous online informational resources, the foundation's website THINKTAYLOR.org, also allows users to find a doctor knowledgeable on concussion treatment in their area, and share their story directly with Twellman himself.
"I tell young athletes, and parents, and coaches — my email is right there on the website," he says. "They can share their story with me anytime."