Tim Howard on his upcoming retirement, self belief, becoming an owner, growing the game, and parenting in 2019.
The legendary US Men’s National Team goalkeeper joins Brian Berger for a wide-ranging interview on Sports Business Radio.
BRIAN: Tim, thanks for joining me on Sports Business Radio. You announced before the start of the MLS season that this season will be your last as a player. I know many athletes have struggled with the right time to step away — when does it feel right. How did you arrive at the decision that now was the time to step away?
TIM: I don’t ever think there is an easy time or a good time to step away, you know. Unless you know how to time it where you’re lifting the trophy and you’re walking out in the sunset. For me, there’s other things I want to do; there’s other things I want to challenge myself with. Forty seems like a pretty good time to hang it up. I’ve been doing this (for) over twenty years so you know I was very content and am very content with my decision.
BRIAN: Yeah, you’ve had such an amazing career. I know that there’s a lot of people who listen to this and you play a very specific position, goalie. What are the traits that you need to have to play goalie? For instance, my daughter plays goalie and I always tell her, “You got to be fearless if you’re gonna play goalie.” That’s one of the traits I think you need to have. But what else do you need to have if you’re going to play goalie?
TIM: Yeah, I think it’s fearlessness, one. I think you have to be, it’s a very cerebral position. You know they used to call goalkeepers crazy. But I think it’s morphed into a very cerebral position. You have to have a short memory. I think you have to be able to not get too ahead of yourself if you made a few saves. Because you know that next one could be your demise. And I think if you’ve had one or two blips or blunders, I think you have to forget those and make the next game-winning save. So it’s very much a Jekyll and Hyde type of situation.
BRIAN: You’ve recently reached 1,750 saves for your career across MLS and English Premier League. Congrats on that. Is there a save — that’s a lot of saves — but is there one or two that stands out and you’re like, “Wow that’s definitely going to be in the memory bank for a long time”?
TIM: That just means I’m old. I think if you do it for long enough you’ll get over 1,700 saves. That’s the easy part. Look, I think that you know — God bless social media — right, I was making a lot of good saves way before that. But I think the ones that stand out are probably the ones late in my career because they’ve had the most coverage of them if that makes sense. The one that I like that seems to always get all the play, up there with my all-time great saves, I was playing for Everton, is the one against Southampton. I back over my head, over my shoulder and make a save and pick it out of — right from underneath the crossbar. It’s a sunny day. So, there’s a lot of meaning in that particular save. But I do genuinely like that one.
BRIAN: Take me into the mind like you said cerebral. Its penalty kicks and it’s you and it’s the striker and there’s so many different scenarios that can play out. And I’ve always thought that’s one of the most difficult things in sports is to be the goalie in that situation. How do you kind of analyze everything in real-time and decide what your strategy is going to be?
TIM: Yeah, I think that people say that it’s either homework and they know where the shooter is going. I think that’s part of it. I think that ultimately though, I think it’s instincts, right? I think it’s still mano a mano and you have to look for clues. The same way you would do if the guy was bearing down on you on a breakaway or you were trying to read another situation. You’re still looking at the clues of body language. The timing in the game. The moment. The score. There’s a bunch of factors that you kind of have to truck into this algorithm within a minute or so from the time the penalty’s called to the time the guy steps up and takes the shot that you have to start to figure things out. I think the walk up plays a major factor but there’s some bravado in there as well.
BRIAN: So, I know a few minutes ago we talked about the fact that you’re retiring at the end of the year. I see you’ve already gotten into team ownership, which is something that it seems like you’re very interested in. What’s the ultimate goal there? I know a lot of athletes say I want to be running a team, or I want to have part ownership. Like what’s the next chapter for you in that regard?
TIM: I’ve been doing — getting my feet wet and doing all the things that are asked of me as a part-owner. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been difficult, you know on a very good level. I think more than anything I’ve been doing a little bit from afar if that makes sense? Because I kind of had this day job, playing. So, once I’m finished being able to get into the office at 7 am and keep long hours. Not leaving until the day is done. And making sure that you know all the phone calls and emails are sorted. That’s what I’m looking most forward to — is really trying to help put my stamp on the club as a whole. And to answer the questions to where that goes in the future, I don’t know. I want to continue to stay in the game at a high level on the executive side of things and see what happens from there.
BRIAN: Are you more interested in building a roster or are you more interested in the business side? Or is it both?
TIM: Yeah, I think the roster-building and what goes into creating a football club is my expertise. Thankfully with my co-owners, Peter Freund, and our president and owner, Craig Unger, they are incredibly business savvy and they’ve been so generous in allowing me to learn on the fly. And so, yeah, I think right now I know where my expertise lies but also from the business angle, that’s massive for me. And that’s only something that I can learn as I go through this process of being part of the ownership group.
BRIAN: I say to athletes all the time, I think it’s great when you — you know during your playing career there’s a lot of people that want to be around you, right? And they want to learn from you. I think it’s great when an athlete befriends business people and while they’re still playing understands the opportunities in business when you’re done playing. And I think it’s great that you have done that. At one point did you say, you know maybe I’m five years away from ending my career or ten years away from ending my career — I need to start looking toward the business aspects of post-career?
TIM: Well, I think to your point, which I agree with — when you’re an athlete you’re relevant. And when you’re no longer an athlete it’s very difficult to keep your relevancy. And I don’t mean that to slight anybody. I just mean that when my shirt is no longer hanging in the team shop, all the kids are going to buy whose shirt is hanging in the team shop. And that’s whoever’s next and that’s what we love about sports, right? And I think you have to create relationships and nurture them while you have a level of relevancy because otherwise then you’re just swimming upstream.
And I think you have to create relationships and nurture them while you have a level of relevancy because otherwise then you’re just swimming upstream.
If you can create a relationship with someone while you’re still playing, and then gain trust, and friendship, and loyalty, and all those things…then that will transcend the game. But if you don’t have that once you leave the game, then you’re scratching at the door trying to get opportunities and begging people for a chance to prove yourself. So I think you have to do that when you’re relevant.
BRIAN: I want to talk a little bit about your playing career, your legendary playing career. When you got the call from Manchester United to come play with them, what was that like? I mean that’s gotta be one of the highlights of your career, I would imagine?
TIM: Yeah, like I say time and time again it was incredible. I was 22 years old, I think. You know, we all like to pretend like we’re grown at that age but now that I’m 40 I look back at 22 and realize I was just a little baby. And getting that call I’ve said all along if I never played for Manchester United a day in my life and I simply got that phone call that would have sustained me for a long time.
TIM: It was pretty incredible to have a club like even say, “Hey, look you’re on our radar and we’re keeping tabs on you.” You know I was floating on cloud 9 for a good year. So yeah, it was a pretty poignant moment in my career and the fact that it came to fruition. I then spent 13 years in the Premier League, three of which were with Manchester United. I’m a very lucky boy. So I look back on that with fond memories.
BRIAN: What have you learned there that has helped you since you’ve returned to MLS?
TIM: Self-belief, I think it has helped me when I returned to MLS with my entire career. I’m a big believer that self-belief and confidence are two different things and oftentimes they get misconstrued. Confidence is something that you gain by winning and losing and sometimes you are in control of that and sometimes you’re not. Self-belief is simply this ability to get out of bed in the morning and say, “Look, I’m good enough to do it. I’m going to go do it today. I might fail but I’m good enough to do it.” And so there’s a massive difference for me between self-belief and confidence and that is one thing that stuck with me.
I had some highs and lows over my 13 years in England. And I think that that doesn’t make me special. I think every player goes through that. And I think what carried me through is always that ability to believe in myself. And probably sometimes was unwarranted. Maybe there were times when I shouldn’t have believed so much but I did and it got me through.
BRIAN: Where did you get that belief and that confidence? I know sometimes it’s a parent or a friend or a coach. Who is that person for you or those people?
TIM: A little bit of everything. My village, you know. I think it’s my mom. I had a great upbringing and my mom is selfless and works for everything she ever had. I had an incredible coach when I was a kid, 10 years old, who believe in me, Tim Mulqueen. Again that’s well documented. And just people who are in my corner who I had the best of friends who I’m still friends with after 20 years. Just people who refused to believe anything other than — in my greatness, which was again ill-advised at times. But I had a really good support system around me.
BRIAN: I want to talk to you for a few minutes about US Soccer. What’s the recipe for continuing to grow the game of soccer in the US? I mean, look, I think if you look at all the trends they’re trending upward. But if you’re a kid growing up today, you can choose soccer, you can choose football, basketball. There’s so many different ways you can go. How do you continue to grow the game of soccer in the US?
TIM: Unfortunately for soccer, there are too many sports to choose from in America. When you go outside of borders, soccer is the only thing that matters in every other country in the world. So we are at a distinct disadvantage right from the get-go. I think the best way to continue to grow the sport is to not oversaturate it. And what I mean by that is, are there people who care about soccer in America? Yes. Large numbers. Are we gaining fans week by week? Yes. But I think if you oversaturate markets, I think you’re destined to fail. So we need to continue to concentrate on what’s working, both with our National team with the MLS and the USL and all the leagues that are creating and committed to developing talent. I think the difficult part of the question is how do we create and develop young talent? It’s difficult in our country. It’s very, very difficult because there’s so many avenues whether it’s hockey or basketball or baseball or football. You can choose anything. And you know it costs a lot of money to play soccer in America whether anyone wants to believe that or not. So, I think a lot of the Latino community and the African American community are largely missing out in this country and so are lower socioeconomic communities. Because unfortunately my daughter plays on a very good team and that very good team costs a lot of money for mom and dad. So we’re lucky that we can afford to do that and put her on the best teams but it’s not the case everywhere.
We’re lucky that we can afford to do that and put her on the best teams but it’s not the case everywhere.
BRIAN: See we could do a whole podcast on what I think of the pay-to-play soccer and the elite soccer and does that path get you to college or pro like you or your parents want you to be. Or if you’re just playing on your high school team or your Junior College team. Does that get you where you need to go? It’s an interesting conversation but like you said it can cost a lot of money to take that path. And I don’t know if it necessarily costs as much money if you’re a basketball player, or a football player, or a golfer, or lacrosse player, or something like that.
TIM: No, I don’t think it does. And I think that it’s a longer podcast. But you know, you look at what basketball is to the inner cities of America or you see hockey to all the kids that’s growing up in Canada, right? It’s a pick-up sport. It’s all it’s ever been, you know. And that’s what soccer is for the rest of the world, right? And I think that’s probably a model that we should look at. Not exclusively but certainly that should be a model an offer to players in America.
BRIAN: You just referenced your daughter and I referenced my daughter earlier. Women just won the World Cup, the US Women. Now there’s the big debate going on right now about equal pay. How do you and I know that this is probably a whole nother podcast, too? But how do you even start to address that issue knowing that the Women’s team in the United States has performed at a very high level?
BRIAN: And they bring in revenue and they check all the boxes. And I know that they are trying to get equal pay. And again as dads to daughters, I always want my daughter to have equal rights with anyone else. How do we address that issue?
TIM: Well I think the starting point for the argument is flawed. I think the starting point for what anyone should get paid, particularly when it comes to US Soccer and Women’s Team vs the Men’s Team, I think we need to take the emotion out of it. And unfortunately, we look at the New York Times and all the news and all the headlines, all people want to talk about is the emotional side of it. And I think when it comes down to getting paid it sounds simplistic. Its dollars and cents. It’s very simple. And the US Soccer is no different than any other employer in a sense that people should get paid and will ultimately whether it’s my opinion or not, will ultimately get paid based on the bottom line. Revenue, dollars, and cents — simple as that.
And until there’s really hard facts and numbers that are getting thrown out and debated, it’s not really a debate. Now the only thing that I ever read is, if you’re not on the side of equal pay then you’re sexist. And that’s the stupidity, right? There’s so much more to this argument than just that and so I think we need to take the emotion out it and we need to talk real dollars and cents. Once you start talking dollars and cents, I think then you can have a real debate and a real argument.
BRIAN: No, I agree. It’s interesting to see what NWSL is doing since the World Cup. They signed a deal with Budweiser. Their games are on ESPN. Do you think US Soccer is doing enough to promote the NWSL?
TIM: I think that the end NWSL is a fantastic league. I think that it’s the best league in the world. When you look at Women’s Soccer, hands down it’s the best league in the world. So absolutely they should be partnered with the biggest brands going particularly in America. Again I don’t have all the numbers so I don’t like to speak out of turn. I think US Soccer has in terms of helping to get the league up and running, helped it become sustainable, I think US Soccer certainly there played its part. So, I wouldn’t be so quick to rake them over the coals. But again, I don’t have all that information.
BRIAN: Okay, that makes sense. So, you’ve played English Premiere. Obviously, you’re playing in MLS. Where does MLS rank now as a league globally in your opinion? Because I feel for years they have really been trying to improve the caliber of play and signing the best players like yourself. Where do they stand right now?
TIM: It’s tough to — that’s an ambiguous question because we don’t play in competitions that pit us on our best day against European competition. We can try to judge friendlies and say, “Oh, such and such is playing European based team.” But you know, again, the margins aren’t always the same. Like you’re not always playing the same team, or maybe the second team or whatever. So it’s difficult to say. I think that the fact that you can bring over a Zlatan Ibrahimović and a Wayne Rooney and Carlos Vela — guys who clearly have some of the best European pedigree going. And certainly, South American pedigree when you look at Atlanta United. And they can dominate the league and it’s not like an old man league. In my case, it might be.
TIM: For most of these guys they’re dominating the league. And so clearly, I think you see that we’re able to attract global talent and these guys can compete and make their MLS Clubs better. And so I think you start there. Again, what does it look like from a results standpoint? I don’t know. It’s too tough to tell. Who would win if this team played? Well, it’s a difficult exercise. But for players like Wayne Rooney and Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimović, just to name a few, these guys could clearly earn contracts at very good European Clubs and chose MLS. And that’s a massive statement for the league.
BRIAN: I want to talk about your endorsement partners. You’ve worked with a number of different companies over the years. Nike being a longtime partner of yours. And I ask this to athletes all the time when I have them on my show. What do you look for in your endorsement partners?
TIM: Yeah, I think what I try to do as the years have gone by, I try not to dilute my brand; my own, personal brand. Meaning, I don’t just sign off on just anybody who is willing to throw money at me. We all work hard and we all are trying to money. But, I want it to be the right fit. I want to have a smaller stable of endorsements and sponsors. But, the right one who is committed to long-term growth; my success and their own success. You know loyalty is huge. I like building relationships with people who I work with at these companies. Not just like a, “Hey, where’s the camera? Turn the lights on. I’ll say the speech. And then I’ll go home.” I want to create genuine relationships with these people and companies because I think that that’s important. That’s how I see it. To be the best, in regards to who I want to be endorsing my brand, and who I want to be a part of…right? Because, as much as I’m throwing their name around, I want my name to be synonymous with good people. It’s not easy. I think at first when you’re young your like just give me money. I’m trying to build my bank account and not just a sustainable relationship. But I think it’s important that you build those.
BRIAN: More and more athletes are looking at equity as part of the relationship, versus it used to just be, “Hey, here’s a million bucks! You’re our spokesperson.” Now, athletes are saying, “You know what? Instead of the money, I wanna invest in this company.” Do you look at those types of deals as well?
TIM: Yeah! Again, as I’ve gotten older that stuff matters more to me, right? Like, you hit the nail right on the head. As I said, young athlete or, I look at myself back then like, “The heck with buying in! Just give me some money that I can start saving,” right?
TIM: But yes! As I’ve gotten older and I look at some of the elite athletes; I think currently the one that sticks out is LeBron James, right? You begin to see how powerful ownership is. Yeah, it’s nice to get a paycheck and then you go on your merry way. But, when you’re in ownership, or are an owner, you then become relevant at the table. And, we all want to be relevant.
BRIAN: I know one of your partners is Wiley X glasses.
BRIAN: I loved the commercial that you and your daughter just did for their Youth Force line. How fun was it to make that commercial with her?
TIM: Well, that was the first time so like, my daughter…it was amazing! It was amazing. It was the first time that uh…you know, that she had ever been a part of something like that, and it was a big deal for her. And for me it was special, and I just remember that my daughter is outspoken and outgoing, and boisterous. She got on set, and like everybody else, and the other…they saw the camera, and she was nervous. It was funny seeing a different side of her. But, I thought she nailed it, and you know being able to do that together is something that doesn’t come around every day so, I was really thankful for that opportunity.
BRIAN: You seem like such a great dad, from what I can observe. You know, again, I have a 14 year old. It’s different parenting now, with social media and things like that. What do you tell your kids, you know as far as the most important things, as you’re trying to kinda coach them through life?
TIM: Uh, yeah, you know its…you’re right about that. Parenting in 2019 and 2020 is vastly different than back in ’89, but…I would imagine. You know, there’s just a lot more pitfalls, but like anything else, rather than put the blinders on my kids and shelter them, I think also massive learning tools, right? Like, stumbling and faltering are good moments to teach and, they have a wonderful mother. And we have an incredible relationship, in-terms of parenting our children, and you know we want them to be successful. I think sometimes you have to use some of these pitfalls for good. Right? Like, allow them enough rope, enough leash to kinda go and be their own person, and let them know what’s around the corner. And then when those things happen you kinda circle the wagon a little bit and move on.
BRIAN: No, I think that’s great advice. There’s a lot of helicopter parents out there and uh, they don’t let the kid trip up at all. And then, how do you learn in life?
TIM: Right! That’s true. Look, I think you learn almost exclusively from your failures. You know, the successes are great but, you kinda roll with those. It’s in failure that you have to rethink some things.
BRIAN: One of the things I admire the most about you is that you were diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, I think 6th grade? Uh, you have developed the Howard’s Heroes program. I absolutely love what you’ve done with your platform, and I can just tell the difference that you’re making in the lives of the kids who meet with you. What do you tell them when you meet with them? Or do they have specific questions? Because, you really seem to be kinda the face of Tourette syndrome for them, and they can look up to you. And they have a role model in you; I think it’s just wonderful.
Tourette Syndrome brings together soccer icon Tim Howard, local boy:Inside Children's Blog
Knowing that a professional athlete has the same involuntary movement disorder as you can be a powerful moment in a…
TIM: Well, I appreciate you saying that. We started the program with some wonderful people here in our community relations department at the Rapids. And we’ve been inundated — I have my whole career — with letters, phone calls, and emails with opportunities to meet people and I can’t always make those happen. There’s just not enough hours in a day to get to everyone.
So, what we did was we offered the opportunity for kids and families with TS, you know, to come to the stadium. And the greatest part was we housed our program here. But, we’ve extended the offer to every away team that we’ve gone to and they’ve, to an organization they have all been accommodating and giving tickets, and liaise with the families. It’s been really incredible bro. It was just something we kinda thought about in the off-season, two seasons ago and it’s taken off.
I kind of tell them in a little bit of a nutshell how it was when I was their age; depending on what age they were. But, more than anything, I want to hear their story. They always have the best questions for me. You know, they write down questions and tell me things and ask me things, but I’m inspired by them you know. I think that when I was a kid, I was…it’s a tough condition to have because it’s right in your face, it’s nothing you can hide. And so, you know I tried to hide it when I was a kid. I meet so many teenagers and children with TS who tell me about standing up in front of their class and speaking to their teachers and their classmates, and telling them what they have. And I’m just like, “Wow!” I’m blown away by their courage.
BRIAN: Well, I’ll tell you what, I hope you’re able to keep it going after you retire. And if there’s anything we can ever do via our platforms to help you please, please let me know. Because, like I said, I just think it’s such an incredible program. I know you only have a couple of minutes left. Social media. Are you running your own platforms? Because, I see you on Instagram and Twitter. I love the pictures that you post, the commercial that you posted with your daughter. You promote your partners really well. You seem to have a good rhythm with how to use social media.
TIM: Yeah, look, I have a good balance. Between myself and agency — someone in particular at my agency — we run my social media. Meaning, basically, I have access to all of it. And I have to things, so I’m on there regularly, and you know, I try to interact as best I can. It’s a slippery slope, social media, because you know you have hundreds of thousands of followers; in some people’s cases millions. And it’s virtually impossible to appease everyone and make everyone happy. But, yeah, I think it can be used for a lot of good, and I think there’s also a ton of pitfalls on there. So, I think more than anything you have to be aware of those things.
BRIAN: You wrote a book, “The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them.” A lot of people wait to write their book when they’re done playing. You wrote yours before you’re done playing; why?
TIM: Well, I thought the timing was right you know. I think it was right at the, probably the apex of your career as a goal keeper, 34/35 and I wrote it with the hope that there were more chapters to be written. Or, possibly another book about other things; what’s next. Who knows? But, I thought at the time I had quite a lot of a story to tell and I wanted to do that.
BRIAN: Is there anything that you wanted people; I know a lot of people write a book and they’re like, “I hope these are the three takeaways that people have for the book,” or did you just kinda write it because it was therapeutic?
TIM: Ugh, no, I do think there are takeaways. And I think that for me perseverance and hard work is the solution to any difficulty. It’s the only way to achieve greatness. And I think that what I wanted to show was is there’s a massive human element to me. And I think that through a lot of my failures that were highlighted, I’ve found success. And you know I think when people read things like that you can meet them in a moment that’s like, “Alright, I am going through this challenge here myself but if I wasn’t working hard I can work harder. Or if I was working as hard as I can this is justification that there is a solution.” So there’s that element. And obviously my backstory with family and Tourette syndrome and all those things. I think anytime that I can continue to be a voice for the voiceless with parents and families with TS that would ultimately be my mission.
Perseverance and hard work is the solution to any difficulty
BRIAN: Broadcasting. You’ve already kind of dipped your toe in the water on that. Are we going to see you broadcasting more when your career is wrapped up on the playing field?
TIM: Yeah, yeah. I think that — I enjoy being in front of the camera. Broadcasting is something that I love to do. There’s absolutely no substitute for putting on your boots, your gloves and going out there under the lights. So I never kid you on if that was the case. For me, the next best thing is to be in or around sports. Whether it’s helping to build a team or dissecting a game from an analytical standpoint on television. I love it! And I work with great people. I love the fact that I’m with Turner and BR doing Champions League. It is something I thoroughly enjoy. You get to my age, you play two decades plus, you master something and now it’s time to master something else. It doesn’t mean you’re good at it from the door but that learning process and that learning curve is something I enjoy.
BRIAN: Have you allowed yourself to think about the last time you step unto the pitch and you walk off for the last time? Or is that something you’re not going to think about until it happens?
TIM: [chuckles] I thought about it but I think it’s foolish to try to understand what those emotions would be like and I won’t be able to. But I also think what’s mainly successful is my single-mindedness. My ability to focus on the task at hand, right? Like if I ever got too far ahead of myself you and I wouldn’t be here talking. So, I know the date. I know the game and the team. And I hope it’s a victory. But ultimately it will have to arrive and I will deal with that when it comes.
BRIAN: Tim Howard you can find him on Twitter @TimHowardGK and/or on Instagram @TimHow1. Tim, I gotta tell you I have such immense respect for you as a person and as an athlete. And I wish you nothing but continued success. I know you’re going to be just as good post-career with ownership, broadcasting, and everything else you’re going to put your mind to as you have been thus far. So, congrats on a great career and if there’s ever anything we can do from our end please let us know.
TIM: I appreciate you saying that and I look forward to catching up with you again soon.
BRIAN: Thanks, Tim.
TIM: All the best. Take care.
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