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July 02, 2014

New Media Darling & American Hero, Tim Howard, US Men's National Team Goalie, Is (Shhh) a Christian

I was actually wondering about this. I had been reading about him, and I had gotten that vibe, but the news sources I was reading apparently didn't want to ask about something so weird and alienating.

Before we get to that, in case you didn't know, Howard is being celebrated for a heroic performance defending the net during the loss against Belgium. He successfully batted away sixteen shots on goal, a record in the World Cup, apparently (and a bit of indictment of his teammates who permitted Belgium so many shots on goal).

So, he's the most romantic sort of hero: The hero in a lost cause.

The thing that everyone's reporting today is that he is a lifelong sufferer from a mild case of Tourette's Syndrome. He does not have the verbal-outburst kind (which is a tiny fraction of Tourette's cases), but rather the uncontrollable-bodily-tic version of it.

Which is a hell of a thing to overcome for a professional athlete in position that is foundationally all about motor coordination and reflexes.

Everyone is copying this old Der Spiegel interview with Howard. And I do mean copying; I saw French newspapers pulling out almost all the quotes from it, and then the Washington Post did it again today.

So I'll copy their copying.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Howard, what distinguishes a goalkeeper with Tourette syndrome from a goalkeeper without?

Howard: While training and during a match, I may develop a pronounced twitch in one of my arms, or my neck or one of my eyes. It is usually very sudden. Sometimes I start coughing, or individual muscles contract.

SPIEGEL: In medicine, behavioral or emotional disorders of this kind are referred to as tics. How often do you have tics during a game?

Howard: I've never counted them. It happens all the time, without any warning, and it increases the nearer an important game draws. It always occurs more when I am particularly nervous.

SPIEGEL: How does your body respond when you are nervous?

Howard: It becomes more tense than usual, my muscles contract more often, and I make hasty movements more often. But that's a good thing because when that happens I know: Now it matters, now I have to pull myself together.

SPIEGEL: As a goalkeeper you can scarcely afford to make any mistakes. What do you do if your arm twitches uncontrollably during a game?

Howard: As long as the game is not happening right in front of my nose but somewhere in the midfield, I let it twitch. I don't try to suppress it, either.

SPIEGEL: And if the ball comes near you?

Howard: Then I am all there. It's strange. As soon as things get serious in front of the goal, I don't have any twitches; my muscles obey me then.

SPIEGEL: How do you do that?

Howard: I have no idea. Not even the doctors can explain it to me. It's probably because at that moment my concentration on the game is stronger than the Tourette syndrome.

SPIEGEL: Has a ball ever slipped out of your hands because of a tic?

Howard: I have dropped a number of balls during my career. But it has never been because of a tic.

His Tourette's Syndrome apparently spurred him into becoming an OCD sufferer as well; he used to collect rocks for no reason, straighten sticks, etc., and various other OCD sort of counting/straightening tics.

This is interesting: Tourette's can grant you an advantage, too.

SPIEGEL: A common accompanying feature of Tourette's is that the person affected has unusually swift reactions. Was that one of the reasons why you started playing basketball and football in high school?

Howard: No. It was not until I was 18 or 19 that I realized I was faster than others when it came to certain movements, and that these reflexes were linked to my disorder.

He is then asked a batch of questions about the insults he'd get while playing in England, being called "disabled," "the cursing goalkeeper" (even though he never actually curse), and other disparagements.

I should note at this point that everyone is claiming that he was "reportedly" called "retarded" by the British tabloid papers, but no one is able to come up with a link to any newspaper saying so. People just keep saying it "reportedly" happened, but there's no evidence for it.

I like how he answers this question:

SPIEGEL: During your three years at Manchester United you often lost your regular position to the second-string goalie, Roy Caroll. Did he ever have anything unkind to say to you in the course of your rivalry?

Howard: No, my Tourette's was never an issue for him or any other of my teammates. Besides, everyone knew that I was unmoved by ridicule.

By the way, that's the answer that made me think he was a Christian. People don't talk like that. That is an archaic (and elegant) way to put it; I immediately wondered what he was reading that put that sort of formulation into the active-sentence-construction part of his brain.

My third guess was "The Bible." It took me three guesses to get to the obvious one.

But that seems to be it.

Only one network transcript ever admitted Howard’s faith – in 2010, according to a Nexis search. On June 17, 2010, NBC "Nightly News" Reporter Ian Williams described Howard as "grounded by a strong Christian faith." Howard

Now being a skeptic, I wondered if that is just something an athlete says for PR purposes, and I still wonder that, but there seems to be evidence that it's real enough:

When Tim moved to England, he was no longer surrounded by all his Christian friends. He grew frustrated and discouraged while looking for a church. He had to survive a lean and lonely time and make new friends. Tim knew he had to get his faith out in the open.

In a country where people may not want to hear about Christianity, Tim is outspoken about his faith.

Tim tries to live out his faith in the daily grind, by his actions or sometimes in conversation. After the 2005 bombings in London, one teammate asked Tim, "If God is so good, how can He allow terrorists to hurt innocent people?" The question launched an intriguing spiritual discussion.

Whenever he is not traveling with the team, Tim volunteers with the L8r Club, the youth group at Bramhall Baptist Church. On Tuesdays, Tim plays soccer with the kids before and after a time of biblical discussion in the church parking lot -- even if he has a game the next day.

I'm not noting this because of any Christian triumphalism. I'm not a Christian. (Well, culturally I am.)

I'm just noting it because the chief transmitters of our culture are relentlessly hostile to Christians, and disparage them almost every single day (unless they're an "alternative" style Christian, like that tattooed lesbian preacher the media was so smitten with a few months back).

So it's interesting that their new Hero -- The One Who Will Make Elegant, European Soccer Popular Among the American Heathens -- is actually one of the American Heathens they despise.

And it's of course always nice to see the bigotries of the arrogant and powerful challenged and undermined.


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posted by Ace at 05:03 PM

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