Thursday, December 1, 2011

One on One with Taylor Twellman

 Taylor Twellman has had an incredible soccer journey. His scoring accolades served him well in college and led him to what proved to be a remarkable professional career that was cut short due to injury. Soccer fans are now finding him to be a real personality in the world of broadcasting. Putting in time with the Philadelphia Union and finding roles with ESPN has shown the soccer world something that is often lost in broadcasting: a candid, educated approach that brings honesty to the table.

That honesty has its pros and cons. Taylor would be the first to tell you that. I spoke to Twellman about his life after playing and how his life has changed. Read on to find out the daily struggles he still goes through, the work he’s doing to raise awareness and the obvious joy he finds in what he does.


MLS Reserves:  Your celebrity has seemingly grown since your playing career ended. Can you talk a bit about what your life has been like since you’ve retired from playing and entered broadcasting?

Taylor Twellman: “It’s been real simple for me, I’m just trying to feel better. For the last three years it’s been a real grind. That’s a good word to describe what I’ve been going through. I’ve spent a lot of time studying the injury and learning what I can do and what I can’t do. I take real good notes on those things and what I have found is that TV and broadcasting is a lot of fun.”

“If you were to have told me while I was playing that I’d one day be doing this, I think I’d have told you that you were nuts. I was the ‘Bull Durham’ of players, ya know? I gave the same answer every time...I didn’t want to get in trouble. I knew if I’d really have given my opinion it might rub people the wrong way and as a player that’s tough. Broadcasting has been fun, but it’s also allowed me the time and energy to heal…and that’s really important.”

MLS Reserves: Your battles with post concussion symptoms are well documented. Are you still suffering those ill effects and to what degree?

Taylor Twellman: “I haven’t worked out in nearly sixteen months. That’s a whole different life change for me. I’ve worked out my whole life… Now, I haven’t gotten my heart rate over 130 for over a year and a half. I’ve studied what triggers it and what’s going on…I’ve done a lot of research with the help of some great people on the effects of Omega-3. I’ve been on a high dosage of Omega-3 and eating certain things over several months- we’ve seen a decrease in my symptoms by probably sixty percent…”

“My headaches have gone down to the point where I can play 18 holes of golf now and carry my own bag. You know, that’s my exercise. Three weeks ago I played 36 holes. To be honest with you, it’s just a gradual process, day by day. But with the Omega-3 now it’s the first time in my life with this injury that I’m seeing results. I’m not just sitting around waiting for a miracle, so that’s been very positive.”


MLS Reserves:  Since entering the broadcasting realm, what have you learned about the game that might have escaped you as a player?

Taylor Twellman: “I don’t know if I’ve learned anything about the game itself yet, but I know I’m going to. You know, I have an interesting perspective and it’s kind of hard to answer that question. I grew up in a family of professional athletes. So I say that to show that I’ve always seen sports the way pro athletes have seen it. I’d play baseball you know and my grandfather was teaching me the art of hitting behind a runner in second grade. So it’s interesting.”

“What I have learned is the different personalities of players. When I played soccer I always respected what the defenders brought to the game, what midfielders brought to the game. I’ve always respected the whole art of the game outside of just what the center forwards have done when games are won or lost. I’ve learned a whole lot about personalities and how you put a team together. Maybe it’s not so much on the field, but off the field and seeing why certain things work and certain things don’t.”

“I can’t say that I’ll not learn anything. There will be times and I’ll say it on TV because I’m not hiding anything in that I’ve got a lot to learn. If I make a mistake I’ll apologize and if I learn something I guarantee that I’ll say ‘Well that’s different’.” 
  
MLS Reserves: The natural question that many seem to have for you still is whether or not you’re interested in coaching. Is that something you’re interested in now or would be in the future?

Taylor Twellman: “Yeah, you know I’ve always thought I’d be a coach at some level and always loved the idea of being a GM. I’ve gotta tell you though, God gives you different things unexpectedly and I’d have never thought that I was in love with TV but I am. I absolutely love doing what I’m doing. I’m going to put my heart and soul into TV and ESPN so I can learn it and hopefully be around for a long time. That’s what I want to do.”

MLS Reserves: You are one of the most honest and candid broadcasters we’ve seen in soccer. You probably get some flak for it as well as some praise. When you see those things, that major support or major angst, what goes through your mind? How do you deal with that?

Taylor Twellman:haha. So that right off the bat helps. If someone wants to disagree with me, I’m 100% for it. The problem is, and this is with anything in all walks of life, the problem is when it gets personal. That’s where the Twitter and the Facebook comes in and opens my eyes to what fans are saying. You know it’s an opinion about what goes on the field and what I saw. If I ever give an opinion based on someone personally, then someone needs to remind me that I’ve crossed a line.”

“You know I love the opinions, I love the fans reaching out to me saying that I’m right or saying ‘Taylor you’re a knucklehead’. It’s when it get’s personal though that I’m done and the argument is over.”

“If you take yourself too seriously then you start to think that your word is gospel and I don’t at all. It’s my opinion and that’s all. It makes the TV experience better and I want the fans to know they find me on Twitter or Facebook and it’s like ‘hey, tell me what you saw.’ I want it to be as if we’re sitting at a bar watching the game, having a conversation.  That’s the atmosphere on TV that I want to create. I know that I am going to be liked and I’m going to be disliked.”


MLS Reserves:  Steve Nicol played a huge role in your career as a player. With him leaving New England it’s almost as if the last of ‘the old guard’ has left and now Jay Heaps has an opportunity to create something new. What challenges does Jay face in New England that he might not have faced with another club?

Taylor Twellman:  “Steve Nicol was a huge part of our whole run then. I preface this every time I talk about it with this: Any time you’re the coach of a professional team for ten years it’s an accomplishment. That means for ten years Steve Nicol was wanted. That’s huge.”

“Now in saying that, some of the players that ended up in New England Stevie got credit for but that needs to be clarified. Steve Ralston, Shalrie Joseph and Taylor Twellman were brought there not by Nicol but by Fernando Clavijo  and John Murphy. Stevie was a great manager. He brought together a lot of guys from a lot of different walks of life with a common goal. That goal was to win. I’d be shocked if he’s not handed another coaching gig soon.”

“I’ve known Jay since 1998 when he was a senior at Duke and I was a freshman [at Maryland] and he was a guy you hated playing against. He was relentless and never shut up. He’d fight for every inch to win and when he was on your team you loved him. In saying that I always thought that with his relationship with Coach K and watching him, I always thought he’d be a coach with that clipboard. Always.”

“There are very few guys that would work harder than him. Challenges wise, it’d be easy to say he’s got no experience. That assistant coach is going to be very experience and I believe Jay will be a sponge and learn a lot the way that Jason Kreis did and the way Ben Olsen has. These guys have learned on the job and I think the understanding from the ownership group is important to know that there are going to be growing pains. Now, do I think that it’s going to be awkward for Shalrie Joseph to look up and see Jay Heaps putting out a line up, I do.. That’s an obstacle; how quickly he can make an imprint on that team.”

“One thing Jay did as a player was to say ‘control the things you control’. Go into the game prepared. There will definitely be a different type of game preparation going into the match than under Nicol that’s for sure.”

A face for radio he says.
MLS Reserves:  You've obviously built a relationship with the fans in Philadelphia. What has it been like to come into a city and an organization like the Union have and see the game so well supported?

Taylor Twellman: “Well, I’d put this up against anyone. Philadelphia’s games were amazing. That place is rocking. The Philly fans are great. Haha, I knew the back story to those fans too. They made sure that the New England Revolution fans knew that Taylor Twellman was the Jim Kelly [former Buffalo Bills quarterback] of MLS. Then I become their team commentator haha, I’d love to hear their thoughts on that. But they made me feel like family and they still do. Whether it is texting me or tweeting me, it’s awesome and it’s shown how cool it can be.”

Philadelphia is selling out soccer in the Northeast and we’ve heard you can’t do that. If you now go to soccer specific stadiums and the t-shirts, the branding are cool…you sell your product. It’s not looked at as the stepchild of sports. You walk around Philly and they’ve got Union gear around. That’s cool, it’s awesome. So I think it’s not getting the recognition that it deserves they way Seattle and Portland have pulled together.”

Currently MLS fans and Philly fans in particular are wondering if Twellman’s new contract with ESPN will mean the end of his time in partnership with the Union. That much remains to be seen but it’d likely be difficult for Twellman to split time between so many avenues as the demands of ESPN and his other endeavors will be pressing. It was clear in talking to him though that he has a tremendous appreciation for the Philadelphia fans and in particular the Union as an organization. Time will tell whether or not he can remain as a commentator for them.

MLS Reserves: Play commissioner for the day. What changes would you like to see happen in Major League Soccer to help grow the game? Playoff structure, conferences, rivalries?

Taylor Twellman: “I’m still not sold on the playoff structure. Here’s the thing, we have to have the playoffs. I love them. But we have to have some sort of emphasis on the Supporters Shield. I mean, people say single table, but that’s just not feasible in the United States.”

Twellman and I went on to discuss the logistics of travel and the unfair comparisons to Europe. The point was made that travel in Europe is much simpler because there is far less distance to be traveled by any given team. Last season the Vancouver Whitecaps traveled some 57,000 miles. That’s absurd. Less distance is easier on the budgets of course, but most importantly it allows fans to travel to away matches and see their team play. 

Perhaps the most iconic of pictures of an MLS great. 

Taylor Twellman: “Eight out of nineteen teams in the playoffs sounds good to me. I love the conferences and rivalries too. Rivalries must happen where fans can travel. I played in 2002 when the league got rid of two teams and we had to play Chicago four times. You really build those rivalries and start to hate those teams. I don’t know that we have that anymore. I think the unbalanced schedule will bring those hard feelings and blood baths back and it’s all good. It is good for the league. Haha, those natural things that happen in sports, that’s why I’m still hated in Chicago.”

MLS Reserves: A chance to plug your efforts in raising concussion awareness. Be it with ‘Think Taylor’ or any other of your efforts.

Taylor Twellman: It’s funny you mention it I’m talking to about a thousand local [New England] kids next Monday and I’m doing the Final Four for ESPN on Saturday. I’ll  have a chance to talk to the teams playing down there in the showcase as well. The website, ThinkTaylor.org, is going to be launching in the new year and we’ve just got to raise awareness.”

Taylor started the Think Taylor movement in order to help educate children and adults in athletics about the dangers of concussions and the problems that come with misdiagnosis and mistreatment from them. It’s currently in a state of transition and is looking to grow and gain funding (it’s non-profit) so that they may educate athletes around the country. Twellman has some ambitious goals for the organization.

Taylor Twellman: “I want ThinkTaylor to be the LiveStrong of cancer support. The biggest problem with concussions is the lack of education and we’ve got to raise awareness of it. You don’t go to an eye doctor for a foot injury. There has to be a resource out there for kids and parents to have. ThinkTaylor is going to do that research. I’ve got to raise the money but we can donate that money to find someone to do the research. If someone has a concussion, they’ve got to see the right people and I want to help them do that.”

Taylor’s career has seen so many ups and downs. To come from a family of professional athletes preaching humility, develop his game and battle for the national team only to have such promise taken away due to injury… we’ve seen prominent athletes succumb to lesser challenges, but for Twellman to persevere the way he has is something special for soccer fans. Time will tell what the future holds but one thing is certain, Twellman’s impact on American soccer and MLS will reach farther than many would have realized in 2002.



4 comments:

  1. Great article. I'm a huge TT fan, sad to see him leaving the Union.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well done, Luke. I'm looking forward to hearing TT coupled with the legendary (Sir) Ian Darke next season.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Much appreciated guys. It was a fantastic interview and I really appreciate you guys reading and sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Excellent as always. Philadelphia was lucky enough to borrow the future Voice of American Soccer. Twellman split opinion but he was never ever boring. I expect my kids to be listening to Twellman calling matches, thats a big a compliment as I have.

    ReplyDelete