Tua too soon

Kaylee Donnelly, Senior Writer

The dangers of football have been reintroduced into mainstream discussion these past few weeks after Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered two significant head injuries within five days, in his games against the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals.

Concussions and traumatic head injuries are not uncommon amongst football players. The NFL, amateur football leagues and even Pop Warner have been subjected to lawsuits in light of their players suffering serious brain injuries.

On Sunday Sept. 25, Tagovailoa was hit by Bills’ linebacker, Matt Milano, pinning him to the ground and slamming the back of his helmet to the turf. Tagovailoa remained on the ground for several moments after, knocked out, before stumbling to the sideline. After getting checked in the locker room, the quarterback was cleared, and returned to play in the third quarter. He played the rest of the game against the Bills, throwing for 186 yards and for a touchdown. 

The singular event itself is suspicious, especially considering Tagovailoa’s seemingly unstable mobility after receiving the hard hit. But Dolphins doctor and an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant had cleared him unanimously, with head coach Mike McDaniel suggesting after the game had finished that Tagovailoa’s instability was a result of a prior back injury. 

And maybe this was true, if not for another hit on Thursday, Sept. 29 when Tagovailoa was taken down by Josh Tupou, a defensive lineman on the Cincinnati Bengals. This time, Tagovailoa did not even stumble.

In fact, he laid on the ground motionless for several minutes, his hands cramped awkwardly near his face, an indicator that he had suffered some sort of brain damage. He was then taken away on a stretcher and sent to the hospital, although was later released and able to fly back home with the Dolphins. 

The events of Tagovailoa’s last two games did not go unnoticed by the general public. The National Football League Players’ Association took it upon themselves to fire the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, believing that they had cleared Tagovailoa wrongly, making several mistakes in the diagnosis and subjecting him to future damage.

The Dolphins claimed that Tagovailoa had passed his concussion test on Sunday, but the association still terminated the consultant. Tagovailoa should be interviewed within the following week with his side of the story. 

The union-like Players’ Association intends to use these events to further protect players’ safety. They made a statement of intent to include new language in concussion protocol called “gross motor instability,” being if a player stumbles after a hard hit to the head they will no longer be allowed to return to the game. 

Whether the association was too hasty in firing the consultant or not, situations like these need to be taken seriously for the livelihoods of the players. The scientific evidence supports the correlation of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, to football players, as they often take repeated hits to the head.

The NFL remains the only professional sports organization to acknowledge the correlation between their play and CTE, settling an over $1 billion lawsuit back in 2014. Several older famous players like Mike Webster and Vincent Jackson are open and adamant about their CTE and its connection to the sport. 

The interview with Tagovailoa may provide some insight into the situation, but in the end this event represents a broader issue within the NFL, one they will have to address through more than just lawsuits in the coming years as more and more players suffer head injuries and concussions.

Player’s safety must be a priority, and while they shouldn’t change the sport itself, improving protocol and holding people accountable are some of the first steps that are important to take in order to make some change.

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