My Upcoming Appointment

I have put this doctor’s appointment off twice now. The COVID-19 effect has delayed it some. My Mom has recently and strongly urged me not to postpone it again. She has told me a few different times “Dwain, you need to go so that preparations can be made for a more considered lifestyle as you approach your sixties.” You see, Mom is right. Mothers usually are aren’t they? She should know. Mom has medically diagnosed Dementia. One of her sisters had Dementia. She is now deceased. The other has Stage 2 or Middle Alzheimer’s. Mom reminds me frequently, because she forgets 😄, that Alzheimer’s can be hereditary. However, if it were not for my long, active career in football/soccer as a goalkeeper, I likely would not be taking Mom too serious.

But I really do need to go because of the whole soccer thing for 27-years. Throughout that career I suffered from at least four (probably more) concussions from game collisions, one or two traumatic, and some at practices/training. One of the game collisions broke my jaw in three places and knocked me completely unconscious; unconscious long enough for EMT’s to arrive with smelling-sauce to awaken me.

Though I am still a little worried. It is just that what the doctor may inform me after these second battery of tests that I am indeed in the early stages of CTE, or what is medically and neurologically termed as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

The Mayo Clinic explains CTE this way:

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the term used to describe brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas. CTE is a diagnosis made only at autopsy by studying sections of the brain.

[…]

CTE has been found in the brains of people who played football and other contact sports, including boxing. It may also occur in military personnel who were exposed to explosive blasts. Some signs and symptoms of CTE are thought to include difficulties with thinking (cognition), physical problems, emotions and other behaviors. It’s thought that these develop years to decades after head trauma occurs.

Have you seen the 2015 film Concussion starring Will Smith? If not, here is its official trailer:

Even though soccer/football concussions occur nowhere near as often as they do in the NFL, it is nonetheless a serious matter. This film hit me hard and hit deep, so deep at the end it made me sit in the living room recliner seemingly paralyzed and with abnormal breathing. Why? Why such a reaction? Two reasons:

  1. Mom and two of her four sisters had/has Dementia/Alzheimer’s. One of them died too soon to conclude with certainty that she had Alzheimer’s—we’ll never know. Plus, two of that aunt’s four children are very religious (Pentecostal, Church of Christ?), another passed away early before my aunt died, and her youngest boy, my cousin I grew up with and was closer to was not confrontational nor religious at all. He was a hilarious peacemaker. I say all of this because there was no way in Hades that the two oldest, very religious cousins of mine were going to allow a medical examination of their mother’s brain. Therefore, it has only been confirmed that two, my Mom and her sister have dementia with the latter definitely suffering from Alzheimer’s.
  2. As I mentioned earlier, I have suffered at least 4 or more concussions, likely more, and one of them knocked me unconscious for quite some time. During my playing days there was no Petr Cech padded helmets in existence (see image below). In addition to these multiple soccer/football concussions, I suffered another off-the-field of play. One early morning while—in high school freshman or sophomore year—delivering my papers for my Dallas Morning News paper route. Mom was driving me through the neighborhoods in our Plymouth four-door sedan while I was outside on top of the trunk with two-bags of those Sunday morning papers. On one particular street turn Mom accelerated a bit too fast. I imagine the sedan had also been washed and waxed one or two days earlier? I’m unsure. I think Mom was approaching 30 mph after turning onto this street and unfortunately for me she was not looking at me through the rear-view mirror. I slowly slid down the trunk feet first, desperately trying to find something on the car to grab, but there was nothing. I hit the street pavement that had small grey-white gravel embedded and the back of my head SLAMMED into the concrete. Our family doctor later that day said I had a bad concussion judging from the swelling on the back of my noggin and he made it very clear that my parents were not to allow me any sleep for the next 24-hours.

The Mayo Clinic lists these symptoms of CTE:

“There are no specific symptoms that have been clearly linked to CTE. Some of the possible signs and symptoms of CTE can occur in many other conditions, but in the few people with proven CTE, symptoms have included:

  • Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment)
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Depression or apathy
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function)
  • Emotional instability
  • Substance misuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior”
Cech helmet_1

Petr Cech of Chelsea FC, Arsenal, and the Czech Republic national team wearing his padded helmet following his major head concussion, trauma, and depressed skull fracture from a collision with Stephen Hunt of Reading FC.

I have six of these first eight symptoms, to varying degrees, for at least the last 15-years or so, one or two of them surfacing within the last 5-6 years. This is why my neurologist wants to see me again, and my Mom and I both agreed two years ago that I do need to go see a neurologist to get ahead of this. Either early in 2019 or late in 2018 I did go. The doctor concluded after testing that I was inconclusive at that date and time, BUT the fact that I had almost all of the currently known symptoms, made him want to see me again in a year.

Damn it! It has now been a year and if anything, I know with a lot of certainty that two of these above eight symptoms have manifested further. There are other external variables at play with these two—one being this unprecedented pandemic, social-distancing, and Stay-at-Home orders—so we must take those variables into consideration. Does that make this upcoming appointment Wednesday, May 20, 2020, any less anxious? Not really, not for me.

I hope this coming Wednesday night, Thursday, and subsequent days after will not be ladened with as Mom put it… “a more considered lifestyle as I approach my sixties.” From what I’ve learned about dementia, Alzheimer’s, and CTE I hope I might be a lucky goalkeeper who by some incredible odds does not develop any of these three neurological disorders for playing a sport and position I truly loved. Fingers crossed.

————

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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That All Men Are Created Equal

I want to change tacks (a sailing term by the way) diverging from my recent COVID-19 posts, and share some other news I found peculiar and enlightening yesterday, Friday, May 15. My readers who are sports fans, particularly football/futebol fans (Ark, John Z), should find this interesting, I hope.

∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼

Some of you know that I am an avid football/soccer fan. I played The World’s Most Beautiful Game all my life, had a very successful collegiate career, and a rather short, average pro career then semi-pro career. All that to say, that along with the Canarinha, or Little Canaries of Brazil, I enjoy keeping up with our U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Soccer Teams, their schedule, who is coming up through the ranks as Wonder Kids and how our Youth Development is progressing compared to the Juggernauts of world football’s Pantheon. So off we go!

US Constitution and 3 Branches

From our Declaration of Independence, 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That all men are created equal.” What does that mean exactly? How does it translate to 21st century America? Does it mean equality for all Americans? Does it mean a nation without prejudice, without discrimination and racism, and tolerance for same-sex marriage? If your honest about all of American history, in all aspects of American life, then the answer is no. Some Americans are not equal and do not have equal opportunity as others.

And even 244-years later Americans are still confused and fighting each other as to how those famous opening words translate. So in our Declaration of Independence, later spelled out in much more detail in the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and all her Articles and Amendments it was further defined and explicitly and implicitly explained, protected, and enforced by our Three Branches of Government. And yet many of us are still confused, sometimes fighting each other, and still practicing and supporting modern forms of discrimination, prejudice, and inequality in too many areas of American life. Case and point, from the U.S. Soccer Federation website May 15, 2020…

JOINT STATEMENT FROM THE U.S. SOCCER FEDERATION AND THE U.S. SOCCER FOUNDATION

Today the U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. Soccer Foundation released the following joint statement: 

We have come to an agreement that we believe is in the best interest for the sport in the United States. As we move forward, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. Soccer Foundation will work together to provide access and opportunities for all soccer players across the country, particularly those in low-income communities and others in need.

USWNT WC celebration

Celebration of the U.S. Women’s National Team World Cup win.

That is all they said. Just 74-words long short.

Though the statement isn’t specifically spelled out in detail, barely at all, I believe what the USSF and the USSother-F are indirectly stating has to do with our now decades old Youth Academies and Development Programs across the nation. I find that highly intriguing and worth a bit of discussion should anyone be interested! Yes?

One reason why I find this highly intriguing for the men’s team is that since the late 1990’s and the FIFA 2002 World Cup in S. Korea & Japan—when our USMNT did phenomenally well with many highly accomplished players playing their club ball in Europe at good-to-great, elite, world class clubs with and against the world’s other elite, world-class players and coaches—the USMNT performances since 2002 have been a roller-coaster and shockingly unpredictable qualifying for the World Cups every four years and worse still, out of one of the easiest Confederations to WC-Qualify from:  CONCACAF.

Why is it easy, or should be so easy, for the men’s U.S. National Team to qualify for the World Cup every four years? Mexico does it pretty much every single time. Costa Rica and maybe Panama or Honduras qualify every so often. Three nations qualify out of a total of maybe FOUR traditionally power-house nations; three is perhaps more accurate. Yet, with all the financial clout, resources, and sporting athletes the United States possesses now and has possessed since 1994—when the World Cup was here last and President Reagan promised FIFA and CONCACAF we would have a premier football league by 1996 or 1998. From a 1988 New York Times article:

U.S. Awarded ’94 World Cup Tourney in Soccer

Fricker said the U.S.S.F. will begin developing plans for a national soccer league, one that will encompass in some way teams from existing semiprofessional indoor and outdoor leagues. The league, he said, would operate at three levels, based on ability, to create ”the ideal environment for America to develop highly skilled players.” Presumably, as the 1994 tournament approaches, the best players will win positions on the American team.
by Michael Janofsky, NY Times, accessed 5/15/2020

Unfortunately, none of this has really happened. Not for the boys and men. Why not? One of the USMNT’s most tragic performances since Reagan’s promise to FIFA and Americans in 1988 was not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. We were beaten by Trinidad-Tobago and thus eliminated, and after a very good showing four years earlier in Brazil (see below ESPN video).

Yes, I do believe! I believed in our USMNT not only during the run-up to the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, but for our national men’s teams from 1994-1998 because we had several talented boys playing for clubs in Europe and South America! Some of them came through the mediocre NCAA-D1 programs, yes. But many of them did not waist those four irreplaceable years, went to play with outstanding foreigners in other divisions and leagues, then went abroad to improve. That is, improve European or South American style. Yes indeed, we had the talent then, we still have it now! What has been going wrong?

Another case and point. Ever since the incredible tournament play in the Group Stage then Round of 16, continuing into the Quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, our absolute pinnacle to-date for soccer history and our boys, and we are still struggling! Something has not been jiving in U.S. men’s national team football, in our professional leagues like the defunct NASL, the old MLPS, the USFL, and now MLS as well as in the Youth Development programs the last 26-years or more? Twenty-six years is a time-span of at least one or two American generations! Do we now have a blurred answer, a sort of iffy cloudy answer now?

What are the USSF and the USSother-F saying, but not saying?

I would love to see your thoughts about this Joint Statement, its implied cause(s), and the implications and possible outcomes.

————

USSF logos - breaker

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Return to Mediocrity

As I know many of my followers/readers are not hardcore sports fans, let me give some perspective on Oct. 10th, 2017. Headlines across America might have read…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Unfathomable? Impossible? Maybe those headlines give the American non-sports or general sports fan a glimpse of what has been going on with our United States Soccer Federation and our men’s national team the last fifteen years or more.

In November 2016 I wrote a post (A Litmus Test) about the USMNT fall and firing of one our winningest Head Coaches, Jürgen Klinsmann. In my post a year ago I pointed out what I thought were three central pillars that dictate a FIFA member’s national team success, mediocrity, or failure. If a national footballing federation like our USSF wants to find a dynasty-proven premier model to follow, it doesn’t have to look too hard at all. In fact, it is or should be a no-brainer.

Ever since the first FIFA World Cup in 1930, football, or futebol, or soccer as Americans call it, has by all records been the world’s greatest most popular, most watched sporting event in all of modern history. Around the entire globe crazed, obsessed fans can tell you in remarkable detail specific plays, passes, saves, and goals by who and where for any number of futebol matches! And the records, the stats, the teams, the players, the articles, and video-highlights are easily found anywhere. Here are the three greatest national futebolling dynasties, top to bottom, followed by consistent strong contenders. These include FIFA Federation dynasties, in parenthesis, which are just as competitive as World Cups:

  1. Brazil — 5 world championships and the only nation to have participated in all twenty World Cup tournaments (8 Federation Championships)
  2. Germany — 4 world championships (3 Federation Championships)
  3. Italy — 4 world championships (1 Federation Championship)
  4. Argentina — 2 world championships (14 Federation Championships)
  5. Uruguay — 2 world championships (15 Federation Championships)
  6. Spain — 1 world championship (3 Federation Championships)
  7. France — 1 world championship (2 Federation Championships)
  8. England — 1 world championship

If a new or burgeoning national futebol/soccer governing body — with an equal or better sports fan-base to grow — wants to see how Brazil, Germany, Italy and a host of several other dominating countries play the game at the highest levels, with weaker economies than the U.S., and do it year after year, tournament after tournament, producing world-class players and coaches generation after generation, above are 4-5 nations to mimic with everything it takes to be a juggernaut dynasty for 88-years and 88 more.

matt-besler-usa

A defeated Matt Besler post-game

Yet, one very tiny Caribbean nation eliminated the U.S. Mens National Soccer Team from its 8th consecutive FIFA World Cup tournament. More embarrassing than the loss Oct. 10th to tiny Trinidad & Tobago is the fact that CONCACAF is by far the easiest federation to qualify from to play in the quadrennial World Cup tournament out of all FIFA federations. Given the U.S. made it to the Quarter-finals in 2002, this begs the serious question, What direction has U.S. soccer headed in?

Having played at a very high-level of soccer myself most of my adult life — collegiately, professionally, and semi-pro — on the continents of Europe, South America, Africa, and of course North America, under several coaches and playing styles, with and against some excellent players and several world-class players, for an American I feel I have a well-based, fair standpoint (since 1975) to assess our nation’s soccer/futebol progress. However, this time I won’t. I am going to defer to someone who has much higher experience, much higher qualifications to tell America and the USSF like it is and won’t sugar-coat it. He repeats much of what I’ve been advocating and screaming since 1990.

One of Five American World-Class Soccer Players:  Claudio Reyna

Reyna-on-US-SoccerOf the handful of American boys that the rest of the futebolling world would label world-class, capable of playing several prolonged seasons in Europe’s elite leagues and teams in the starting-11, Claudio Reyna is a shoe-in. Real quick, he played from 1994-2008 at the highest levels with Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg, Rangers, Sunderland, and Manchester City before retiring with the New York Red Bulls. Had he not suffered so many leg injuries, most critics say Claudio would’ve held almost all American soccer records for a long time eclipsed only by Clint Dempsey or the rising Christian Pulisic. I feel what Claudio has to say about Oct. 10th and the state of U.S. soccer today carries a whole lot of weight. Here are his words from an interview with soccer website Goal.com:

REYNA:
“Our approach and our behavior to the sport here — to coaching, to everything, is just wrong. We’re far too arrogant. We’re far too obnoxious. We are egotistical, having never won anything or done anything, and that’s not the case around the world. You travel to Spain, Argentina, Germany and you run into coaches and sporting directors and there’s a humility about their work that doesn’t exist here, and that’s, for me seeing it, is to me a big concern.

When you have a disappointment like last week, and we’ve had past disappointments as well, and we’ll have disappointments in the future, but what we need to understand that it’s for me behavioral. We have coaches who think they’re better than they are. Across the board, we just think we do things better than we really do. I mean in every way. Whether it’s broadcasting, or media, coaching, we’re just not as far along as we tell ourselves we are. We need a little honesty, and hopefully this brought it. I think it’s far too late. I think we’ve been asleep at the wheel for a little bit too long.”

For the key pivotal positions throughout the U.S. soccer culture, youth development, up to the USSF and USMNT since the 1970’s, anyone who is outside of soccer just doesn’t understand what Claudio is saying. Non-futebol leaders, administrators, coaches, presidents, corporate sponsors and fans (who ultimately pay for the product on the fields), bring with them this old guard USA mentality that America is the best at most everything!

REYNA:
“We have all these countries around the world we can learn from, and you go over there and you’re not going to see different training sessions. You’re going to see good games, and poor games, like in any league across the world.

But the one thing that we haven’t realized, I think, when we have our American soccer people go abroad to learn, I don’t think they see the behaviors of the people and how they coach in their day-to-day work. That’s the shake-up I hope people realize more than anything.

You go to a U-14 and U-15 coach in Spain, and they are 10 times more humble than a U-14 or U-15 coach in Connecticut, New Jersey or New York, who thinks they’re the next Pep Guardiola or Patrick Vieira.

Until we realize that — that we’re not as good as we think we are at all levels — then I think we’re going to continue being what we are, which is mediocre.”

Messi-Ronaldo

Spain’s La Liga dominates recent world-class club futebol

In my personal opinion and experience, Claudio is partly correct about European leagues and games. However, the reason the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, and Brasileiro Série A are the top leagues in the world are because of the product they have on the field and sidelines. The best players on the planet play in these five leagues and paying fans with paying sponsors want to watch excellent entertaining futebol of the highest levels. Bad games are few and far between in these leagues between the bottom-dwelling clubs.

Why is the MLS, America’s pro league, consider 2nd or 3rd Division by world standards? Reyna believes that though soccer has grown in popularity in the U.S., the quality has not improved or kept up with that growth.

REYNA:
“What I think has happened in the past 10 years is we’re confusing investment, expansion, growth, (U.S. Development Academy), and all these other things with progress. All these things have sort of created a feeling that we’re progressing, but I call it expanding, growth and more fans.

From the general growth side it’s happening, but are we really progressing? When I look around at certain levels I don’t see progress happening.

I remember the great Johan Cruyff would say something about Dutch football, or Franz Beckenbauer in Germany, and when other big players and coaches spoke out and were honest, it shook things up and make people ask, ‘How are we teaching the game to our youth? How are we playing the game? What’s the competition like?

We don’t have those kind of serious discussions here. We just seem to talk, but never really make any significant changes.”

And I would add here that because of an old guard mindset of sports egotism, like we had about Olympic basketball for so long, Americans falsely thought we could just create our own pro-soccer league here with a lot of American players and a few old retiring European or S. American has-beens and soon advance into the World Cup’s Quarter or Semi-finals. That was the American mentality after the 1994 FIFA World Cup here in the U.S. when we upset Colombia and especially after our performance in the 2002 World Cup.

REYNA:
[The old guard] “are sitting together and thinking about strategies and how we’re going to get better. We need a little humility and modesty at the table. Unfortunately, we have a little too much ‘Mr. I Know Everything’, ‘Mr. Arrogance’, ‘Mr. Obnoxious’, ‘Mr. Loud’, and when those get together nothing happens.”

This is who I believe Claudio is calling out, the American generation in key pivotal positions who did not grow up playing little league soccer, school soccer, and college soccer. At best, that old guard might have had their kids playing, but not at top-quality European or S. American influenced academies with the same foreign coaches. When one wants to learn all the in’s and out’s of a intricate complicated sport, you go and learn from the best in the world. That is what S. Americans did for basketball in the NBA and that’s what the rest of the world did for baseball in the MLB. What has the old guard and USSF done? Can it improve or change as necessary?

What does Claudio think about our retiring 30-year olds, current mid-20 year olds, and teenage soccer generations?

REYNA:
“There’s good players at every age group. There’s some very good players in this country. As supporters of these players, whether it’s coaches, sporting directors, team presidents, we need to continue to push ourselves to make sure they have the best environment to develop because the talent is here. One thing I’ll never say is we don’t have good players, because we do.”

Gabriele Marcotti, a European sports journalist-columnist and self-protested “outsider” to U.S. soccer, wrote a good 7-point piece for ESPN FC earlier this month that I think pin-points some chronic and festering problems. Check it out. His first four points are excellent. Back to Claudio…

REYNA:
“There’s a lot of positives despite the disappointing result that we had last week. I think we’re all embarrassed. I’m embarrassed as a former player that I have to go around and have people make fun of us, and get texts from my friends in Europe who remind me we’ll be on [vacation] next summer. I can laugh, but it hurts. It definitely hurts.”

I am right there with your pain Claudio. It does indeed hurt, particularly when the USMNT and USSF have no legitimate excuses for missing the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The first head that should immediately roll is President Sunil Gulati. This decline and disaster has happened on his watch.

As a personal closing opinion and note, without question, all of the USMNT greatest futebol achievements, greatest futebol players, and greatest futebol moments have come with, by and during eras when American players had prolonged experience or were playing in top foreign leagues. After at least five decades of soccer, what does that suggest about our youth development programs and domestic Major League Soccer?

(paragraph break)

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