Shutting Out Tourette's Syndrome

<B>Steve Kroft</B> Talks To Soccer Goalie Tim Howard

Chances are you have never heard of Tim Howard, and if you don't follow a sport Americans call soccer, there is no reason you should know the name.

But to the rest of the world, which calls the sport football, Howard is the American goalkeeper for the most famous team in the world -- Manchester United of England.

So how did Howard become one of the best known Americans in international sports, while escaping the attention of his fellow countrymen?

The story has an almost fairy-tale quality to it, especially since Howard fights a daily battle with a neurological disorder called Tourette's Syndrome. Despite his talent and his confidence, and everything he's overcome – he, too, still wonders how it all happened. Correspondent Steve Kroft reports.
"Look, Manchester United, again, one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world, needed a goalkeeper. and they went out and got me," says Howard.

"You know, I think there's some other guys that, if you gave me the decision to make, I might have got some other guys."

But Manchester's fans don't want any other guy. In his first season, Howard was voted best goalkeeper in the Premier League, allowing just 47 goals in 44 matches, with 14 shutouts -- and helping the team to its first football association cup in five years.

"It's incredible. When I first got there, I told people it was like traveling with a band of a rock stars. You go to a hotel in the middle of nowhere and there are people there," says Howard. "The city lives and sleeps for the team. It's incredible."

And it's never bigger than on Saturday afternoons, which is game day all over Europe.

"It's intense," says Howard. "You pull up to the stadium three hours beforehand, and you come inside and you can just hear it. You know, all the rustling. And it sounds like a thunderstorm."

As Howard and his teammates begin their pre-match warm-ups, the Manchester faithful warm up their vocal chords between pints at the pub, with a song for every player, including their American goalie.

"People here work all week just to come here on Saturday. They don't work all week for something else," says Howard. "They work hard, so they can come here for 90 minutes, and give everything they have."

Game day in Manchester is a tribal experience, a sea of red jerseys flowing towards the old Trafford Stadium on a river of beer. And, as Tim Howard is finding out, keeping the goal for Manchester United is not a job for the faint of heart. He is protecting the dreams of an entire football nation.

Is he becoming a star? "No, I think for me that is unhealthy," says Howard. "Right when you start to think that you're somebody, that is when you get a transfer, when you start playing bad."

It is heady stuff for a 25-year-old "Yank" who spent the off-season living in total obscurity in Memphis, Tenn., with his wife Laura and their dog, Clayton. They are still able to walk down Beale Street totally unaccosted.

"It's great. It's quiet, it's easy living, which is important," he says. "[Not getting recognized] is always a good thing for me. … I don't feel the need to be seen, to be glorified in any way."

But like it or not, he gets all the glory anyone needs in Manchester. It's England's second largest city, with 7.5 million people in a metropolitan area that makes up the industrial heartland.

But the team's following is global. With fans in more than 125 countries, United is widely considered to be the most successful sports franchise in the world, valued by Forbes magazine at a billion dollars.

Its Scottish manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was even knighted by the queen after bringing home a European championship, one more sign of just how seriously all of this is taken.

"There was another famous Scotsman called Bill Shankley who said, 'Football is not a matter of life and death. It's more important than that,'" says football journalist Peter Fitton, who has been covering Manchester United for the last 20 years. "That has been the ethos that's driven Alex Ferguson throughout his time at Manchester United."

Fitton says the one thing that the team had not been able to do was to find someone who could fill the shoes of retired goalkeeper Peter Schmeikel, the great Dane who played a huge role in championship seasons during the 1990s. He left in 1999.

"Then Alex tried a lot to get it right. An Italian, a Spaniard, an Australian, an Irishman," says Fitton. "There were six people he tried before he landed on Tim Howard."

At the time, Howard was the third-string goalie for the U.S. national team, and making $30,000 a year playing for the New Jersey Metro Stars in front of 20,000 people. But his size, quickness, and athleticism caught the eye of Manchester United.

A few months later, after watching Howard play for the U.S. team in a game against Mexico, Manchester United called back and offered him a contract.

Did he know what he was getting into? "I thought I did," says Howard, laughing. "After a year, I was sadly mistaken. It was bigger than I could have ever expected in every way. The magnitude of each game, the pressure in every training session, the responsibility that's put on you by the club, by yourself, by the players. It's bigger than you can expect in any aspect."

But acceptance has not come easily, because Howard suffers from something called Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder of the central nervous system that affects 1 in 2,500 people, causing involuntary tics, spasms and muscle twitches.

Howard says Manchester United knew he had Tourette's syndrome. "And the wonderful papers over in England dug some stuff up and wrote some stupid headlines," he says. "'Manchester United wants to sign retarded goalkeeper … swearing savior, because, you know, they thought everybody with Tourette's syndrome must curse or something ridiculous."

In rare cases, Tourette's syndrome can cause sudden verbal outbursts and swearing, but Howard doesn't have those symptoms. He was diagnosed with Tourette's when he was 9 years old. His mom first noticed symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive behavior, repeatedly counting and touching and straightening things. But early on, he refused to let the affliction over shadow his ambition -- and he has become an activist, trying to dispel the ignorance and myths about the disease.

Did it create problems in school? "Fortunately, I was a big kid. I was a pretty popular kid, and I participated in every sport," says Howard. "So, it was kind of, like, the only thing they could do was whisper it behind my back."

"I used to have a game I would play. I'd be ticking, or twitching, or doing something, and I could hear someone whisper, 'Watch Tim,'" adds Howard, who explains how he controlled his outbursts. "So right then, I'd turn it on and I'd make sure I didn't tic. And now, they were thinking the other person was crazy, because Tim looked, he was normal, you know?"

Was he controlling it now, during the interview? "I'm comfortable now. I'm OK. I think you'll see sometimes that I blink too much and I clear my throat," says Howard. "But you know, right now, I'm OK. It's at bay. It's being nice to me today."

He says it's difficult to control when he's nervous, stressed or anxious. So how does he control it while being a goalie for Manchester United? "Go figure," he says. "I know. That's the catch."

His job is the most stressful on the field, protecting a goal that is 24 foot wide and 8 feet high from curving 65-mile-an-hour shots by the best players in the world. He may touch the ball only four or five times during a 90-minute game. And when he does, his teammates and the fans are all holding their breaths.

"There are 11 guys on the field. When 10 of them gets beat, there's always someone else to help them out," says Howard. "When you get beat, there's not. It's just, that's it. You're the last line of defense."

"I think Manchester United had their concerns. I think they liked me as a player. They wanted to see me as a person. And they certainly wanted to see how much the syndrome affected me," says Howard. "They're making a multi-million-dollar investment. They wanted to see how it affected me, and yes, would that one goal cost them?"

How long did it take for him to win their confidence? "I don't know," he says, laughing. "I don't know if I won it yet. I don't know."

When 60 Minutes talked to him a few months later in Manchester, on the eve of United's home opener, his Tourette's symptoms were more pronounced. He has always refused to take medication for fear it might dull his senses and reflexes.

"It's just a battle of the will, your willpower versus what your mind is telling your body to do," says Howard. "And so it's about suppressing those physical movements, those vocalizations. It's tough to explain, I suppose."

But he says he can do it.

"If you told me to sit in a room, and you had a million dollars cash stacked right there and said, 'Don't move, don't twitch, don't do anything,' without a doubt, the million dollars would be mine," says Howard.

But what if somebody is coming toward him, preparing to fire a shot on goal?

"It just doesn't happen. They could be out there by midfield somewhere and I may have a twitch, a tic of the eyes, of the head, of the arm," he says.

"But when they get in there and it's time to go to work, it just doesn't happen. And maybe one day, it will. and maybe I'll get fired for that. I don't know. But I can deal with that, too. I'll just say something was in my eye."

But right now, there is no need to make excuses. Howard has the support of everyone in Manchester, and most importantly Ferguson, his manager.

"Not one inkling of trouble from him. His behavior patterns have been great. He never misses a training session," says Ferguson. "He wants to do well and I think people who really want to do well generally do well. And that's a great attribute he's got."

Has he come along faster than Ferguson thought he would?

"Oh yeah, he did. He's had his first season. The glamour part is over," says Ferguson. "What he did last season was showed his natural abilities. He now has to add to that, which, obviously, we're working on. And if he has all these things, he'll be a top goalkeeper."

Howard admits he's been playing pretty well, but says, "I think we can do better. There's no question about that. And certainly, I can do better. But I'd say for the most part, OK."

He hasn't been giving up a lot of goals. "One goal is too many here," he says, laughing. "I want a shut out."
  • Rebecca Leung

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