Twellman donating brain for BU study

Twellman donating brain for BU study

Associated Press

Since his college days, New England Revolution forward Taylor Twellman has had seven diagnosed concussions. Given all the headers and hits over his career, he's wondering if that number might be drastically higher.

Twellman still deals with the effects of a concussion he sustained during a collision with a goalkeeper two years ago, one that possibly cost him a shot at making the U.S. World Cup team and cut short his 2010 season after going on injured reserve in late June.

Now he's volunteered to join a Boston University medical school program in which researchers are trying to better understand the long-term effects of repeated concussions. He's one of 300 athletes in just the last two years who have agreed to undergo a battery of annual tests and donate their brain after death.

"It's not hard to donate in that you want to help people down the road," Twellman told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "But it is hard since they want your brain because it's been damaged."

The athlete registry is the work of the university's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, a collaborative venture between BU Medical School and the Sports Legacy Institute that's addressing what it calls the "concussion crisis" in sports. The group has been at the forefront of research into head trauma in sports and received a 1 million gift from the NFL, which it has pushed for better treatment of concussions.

In addition to the athlete volunteers, the families of 40 deceased players have donated brain and spinal column tissue of their loved ones to the center. The material has been studied to see if repetitive head injuries possibly led to a degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Chris Nowinski, the co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, leads the charge to round up donors.

A former football player at Harvard, Nowinski got involved after his career with World Wrestling Entertainment was cut short because of repeated concussions that were so bad he couldn't even remember the script for the bout.

"I think we all know that this is a significant problem that has been ignored," Nowinski said. "These athletes are like, 'I don't need my brain when I go, especially if something good can come of it."

Still, it's not always an easy sell.

"Even good friends of mine who are former athletes are completely uncomfortable with the idea of donating your brain," Nowinski said. "But we need a registry to accelerate our search for treatment."

So far, the athlete registry consists primarily of pro wrestlers, hockey and football players, including former NHL standout Keith Primeau and current Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Matt Birk, according to a partial list provided to the AP.

Donors to the brain bank include former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters and Penn football player Owen Thomas, both of whom committed suicide. The family of pro wrestler Chris Benoit also bequeathed his brain after Benoit killed his wife, son and himself at his suburban Atlanta home in June 2007.

All three athletes showed signs of CTE, a disease that has been connected to depression and impulse control issues in NFL players who have sustained concussions.

Thomas, who would have been a senior, killed himself in April. He had no history of concussions, but an autopsy on Thomas' brain by the center's researchers showed he had the early stages of CTE.

Ideally, Nowinski said the center would like to sign up 50 athletes from each sport. Most of the volunteers are men, but there are women in the registry including soccer player Cindy Parlow and swimmer Jenny Thompson.

Athletes who are enrolled in the registry take a medical history every year, perform cognitive tests and answer an array of questions, such as if they've been dealing with bouts of depression. It's a way to establish a medical baseline, helping researchers watch for signs of CTE, which can eventually lead to dementia.

"We have no idea how much head trauma is necessary to produce CTE," said Dr. Robert Cantu, a clinical professor of neurosurgery and co-founder of the institute. "We just know those who play sports and who have higher amounts of head trauma have a higher incident of it. ... This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of studying this problem."

Cantu said studies have shown a first-string college football player in a given year experiences between 800 and 1,500 blows to the head of a G-force greater than 20. That's the equivalent of about a 20-mph car crash each time.

"Not enough to produce a concussion, but a substantial jolt," Cantu said. "Let's make sports as safe as we can because total head trauma in susceptible individuals can lead to some really bad stuff."

Over his 13-year NFL career, Birk has sustained at least three concussions, along with being jarred senseless on numerous occasions. He realizes the importance of the research.

"It's something that needs to be figured out because it's somewhat alarming to me as a player what they've found in a short amount of time," said Birk, who played football at Harvard with Nowinski.

Twellman has been struggling to retain his form since taking a punch to the face while scoring a goal against Los Angeles on Aug. 30, 2008. The 30-year-old striker doesn't know when -- or if -- he will return to the soccer field.

"It's very difficult to not do what you're paid to do, what you're born to do," Twellman said. "I'm starting to feel better, having more good days than bad days. But I haven't gotten over the hump to have all good days yet."

In a nine-year NFL career, offensive lineman Kyle Turley estimates he took hundreds of hits to the head bad enough to possibly give him a concussion. As if that wasn't enough, he also used to fire himself up with hard slaps to the side of his head before every game.

After retiring following a career with the Saints, Rams and Chiefs, the tattoo-laden Turley experienced severe headaches, sensitivity to light, vertigo, depression and memory issues.

So he went searching for answers and ran across Nowinski at a retired players conference in Las Vegas 18 months ago.

Nowinski was someone who helped him make some sense of his situation.

"As a player, you're going to go out there and gladly give your body and your brain and everything else, you go out there risking your life," said Turley, a budding country musician in Nashville, Tenn., and one of the athletes in the ongoing study.

"The reality is you're going to be left with a lifelong battle of severe injuries. They have answers for every other injury but the head."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

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Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

NEW YORK - Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as coach of the U.S. soccer team Monday, six days after a 4-0 loss at Costa Rica dropped the Americans to 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is the favorite to succeed Klinsmann, and his hiring could be announced as early as Tuesday. Arena coached the national team from 1998 to 2006.

Qualifying resumes when the U.S. hosts Honduras on March 24 and plays four days later at Panama.

"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup."

A former German star forward who has lived mostly in Southern California since retiring as a player in 1998, Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time.

The USSF announced in December 2013 a four-year contract extension through 2018, but the successful World Cup was followed by poor performances. The U.S. was knocked out by Jamaica in last year's Gold Cup semifinals and lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. The team rebounded to reach this year's Copa America semifinals before losing to Argentina 4-0. But this month Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in the first home qualifying loss for the U.S. since 2001.

And last week, the Americans were routed in Costa Rica, their largest margin of defeat in qualifying since 1980. They dropped to 0-2 for the first time in the hexagonal, as the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean is known.

While there is time to recover, given the top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team, players seemed confused by Klinsmann's tactics, such as a 3-4-1-2 formation used at the start against the Mexicans.

"Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann," Gulati said. "There were considerable achievements along the way ... but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come."

The U.S. had not changed coaches in the middle of qualifying since the USSF made the position a full-time job and hired Bob Gansler in 1989 to replace Lothar Osiander, who also at the time was a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant.

Klinsmann made controversial decisions, such as dropping Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster while taking along relatively inexperienced players such as John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, which drew criticism from some in the American soccer community.

He coached the team to a 55-27-16 record, including a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and victories in exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He has worked in the past year to integrate more young players into the lineup, such as teen midfield sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

Arena, a 65-year-old wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then coached D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. As U.S. coach, he led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals in the team's best finish since 1930.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination in 2006. Gulati unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, then coached his nation to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

When Gulati and Klinsmann couldn't reach an agreement, the USSF hired Bradley, who coached the team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. A year later, the Americans stumbled in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann replaced Bradley.

Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, '12 and '14.