Goalkeeper will talk about soccer and life coping with the neurological disorder during a June 4 fundraiser at Rutgers

Tim Howard
Tim Howard says he felt liberated when he finally decided he wasn’t going to hide his facial tics anymore.
Photo: Steindy, Wikimedia Commons

American soccer superstar Tim Howard stunned the world in 2014 when the goalkeeper made a record 16 saves in the World Cup game between the U.S. and Belgium.

But for more than a decade, young people with Tourette Syndrome have admired the professional player and North Brunswick native for publicly sharing his personal experiences with the neurological disorder. Ever since Howard was thrust into the spotlight as starting goalkeeper with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the Red Bulls), he has encouraged young people to confront bullying and debunk myths associated with the disorder.

On June 4, Howard will speak about soccer, World Cup tournament play and his life with Tourette Syndrome during an afternoon event at Rutgers. The event will also feature a kids’ clinic with the Rutgers men’s soccer team and a book signing by Howard.

Howard’s appearance marks the beginning of a year-long fundraising effort for programs run by the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome and Associated Disorders. The group, which partners with Rutgers in the fields of psychology and genetics, supports research and provides resources for families coping with the disorder and professionals who provide care.

The center also includes the Tim Howard Leadership Academy, a four-day program that started last year on the Rutgers campus. It equips teenagers with skills to help manage daily challenges that the syndrome throws their way.

“We want them to feel empowered,” said Howard, recalling how he felt liberated when he finally decided he wasn’t going to hide his facial tics anymore. “The boosting of my self-esteem was the best medicine that I could ever have – or that I could ever give to someone else.”

Tourette Syndrome is marked by tics, or uncontrollable body movements, including grimacing, eye blinking and shoulder shrugging. The tics can also be vocal – shrieking, hooting, or repeating words. Although often shown in movies or on television, severe vocal tics that involve cursing or uttering racial slurs are less common. As many as 1 in 100 kids show signs of Tourette Syndrome – most of them undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Howard and NJCTS executive director Faith Rice had been working since 2010 to establish the academy, which Howard said he wished he could have had when he was growing up. While the athlete said the bullying “wasn’t in my face,” he noticed when kids would whisper, point, look and laugh.

“That probably hurt even more,” he said.

As Howard rose through the ranks in professional soccer, he realized he had to remain out front with his condition.

“I just thought it was better at that moment to confront it head-on, so I could dispel the myths, answer the questions,” he recalls.

Other programs that the center supports include a scholarship fund for high school graduates with Tourette Syndrome, anti-bullying workshops in schools and training for physicians and hospitals.

“It’s not unusual to have a 13-year-old speaking to hundreds of doctors,” said Rice. “Professionals hear it directly from a teen who is affected, and the teen becomes a leader, a self-advocate.”

When it comes to raising awareness for Tourette Syndrome, Howard says his job is simple.

“I get to be myself, play soccer – a tic here and a twitch there – it gets caught on TV and people see it. In the course of 90 minutes, I’m able to raise awareness.” He is inspired by young people who have the strength to talk to their peers about their condition and challenges.

People wishing to attend the “Team Up with Tim Howard” event from 3 to 5 p.m. on June 4 may purchase tickets from NJCTS. The youth soccer clinic is sold out.

Media inquiries: Carl Blesch, 848-932-0550, cblesch@ucm.rutgers.edu