FRANKLIN, Mass. -- In recent years, through increased awareness and education of symptoms and rehabilitation of concussions, traumatic brain injuries have become the most feared and unpredictable of injuries for athletes of all ages.
Leading the charge for increased concussion awareness and prevention has been Taylor Twellman. The former New England Revolution forward, five-time Major League Soccer All-Star, and now lead ESPN soccer analyst has been outspoken about the effects concussions have had on his career, and what they could do to other athletes without the proper understanding of them. His professional career ended in 2010 following the lingering effects of the seven concussions he had since he was eight years old.
Since his retirement, he has started the ThinkTaylor Foundation, an organization dedicated to creating social change in the world of Traumatic Brain Injuries. On Wednesday, he was on hand at the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA)'s annual Media Day to announce MIAA/ThinkTaylor Concussion Awareness Week.
The two organizations are partnering with Inaria, a sports and active apparel designer to create a week of “Orange Awareness” to draw attention to the concussion issue.
During the week of Sept. 21-25, high school soccer fields will be painted orange to show support for the cause. Participating schools will be provided with 4 ThinkTaylor-branded Inaria soccer match balls (two for boys’, two for girls’) to use during games, 30 orange terrycloth wristbands for players, coaches, referees and administrators, as well as ThinkTaylor concussion awareness bag tags for the schools’ varsity teams to wear throughout the week. The tags will provide the core basic for concussions as well as advice for parents. Fans are encouraged to attend the games wearing orange as well to show their support for the initiative.
“I want to help, I want to make a change, not for myself, not for ThinkTaylor Foundation, but for everyone in this room,” said Twellman to the assembled media. “Any one of us in this room can get a concussion. Any one of us can get a Traumatic Brain Injury. We need concussion awareness, recognition, and education.”
“Giving back to the community is what this week is about,” he added. “We can have press conferences. We can have Concussion Awareness Week. We can have orange balls. We can have all that. That’s the window dressing. A grassroots movement is what this is about. The state of Massachusetts is special to me on a personal and professional level, and I am so grateful this is going to be the first state. I know other states want to get involved, but the state of Massachusetts will set the bar higher for all the states in this country to follow.”
There will also be a social media campaign throughout the week on Twitter and Instagram by using the hashtag #InariaTTChallenge. An MIAA/ThinkTaylor committee will select the top 10 schools whose photo exhibits the most creative and expressive support of Concussion Awareness Week. The winning school will win two full
sets of custom Inaria uniforms (jersey, shorts, and socks), one for their boys’ team and one for the girls’ team.
Each organization involved hopes this initiative will spark a movement across all sports for coaches, athletes, and parents to become more aware of the short and long-term ramifications of concussions so they can make the proper choice for the student-athlete’s long-term health.
“It is the sacred responsibility of this association (MIAA) to have the health and safety of our student athletes as our priority,” said MIAA Executive Director Bill Gaine. “In this particular venture, we are focusing on a critical issue facing all of our student athletes. Within the MIAA structure, we have 230,000 student athletes who participate and every day. Each of our educational leaders must focus on their welfare, their health, and on their safety.”
One factor Twellman emphasized Wednesday was honesty. A player needs to be honest with coaches, athletic trainers, and decision makers when he or she is not feeling right, regardless what a baseline test might say. To some athletes, competitive participation is a necessity. Sitting out may cost a player a starting spot on a team, a college scholarship, or a chance to compete for a championship.
Two recent examples of this in professional sports were the New England Patriots Julian Edelman and his was-he-or-wasn’t-he concussed moment in the Super Bowl following a midfield catch and hit from a Seattle Seahawks defensive back. The other was in the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer final when Germany’s Cristoph Kramer left the game following a blow to the head. He attempted to stay in the game, but reportedly asked the referee if he was playing in the World Cup final and was then removed from the game.
So what about the high school athlete that will go to college not on a scholarship, who views a state championship as their personal Super Bowl or World Cup? How does one sacrifice the gratification of athletic supremacy that might not be experienced ever again and let the moment pass the athlete by?
“I’ve been there,” said Twellman. “What I would tell every high school athlete, every pro athlete, young kid in the world, is the spur of the moment, I get. But everyone that comes to me, every senior in high school that says, ‘This is my last moment,’ I can promise you this: if you make the right decision, the moments coming in the future are going to be bigger, they’re going to be better, and you’re not going to regret it. You never want to look back and say I regret that decision and now my life has completely changed.”
“I’m not worried about the World Cup finals and the Super Bowls,” he added. “What I’m worried about is the ten’s of millions of people that are playing sports that will never play in a Super Bowl and never play in a World Cup final. That’s what I’m worried about.”