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Tua head injury brings concussions back into focus for NFL: ‘S–t just got real’

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Chris Nowinski, former Harvard football player, former WWE superstar, neuroscientist and founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, was as blunt as one could be about the injury suffered on national TV by Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa.

“This is a disaster,” Nowinski tweeted. “Pray for Tua. Fire the medical staffs and coaches. I predicted this, and I hate that I am right. Two concussions in (five) days can kill someone. This can end careers. How are we so stupid in 2022.”

The NFLPA investigation into the decision to allow Tagovailoa to return to Sunday’s game with Buffalo following a hit that left him stumbling trying to leave the field was still ongoing when he was felled by a much more damaging hit in the Miami-Cincinnati game Thursday night.

With 5:15 left in the second quarter, the Dolphins trailing, 7-6, Tagovailoa, at the moment 8-for-14 for 110 yards and an interception, a week and a half removed from a six-TD game in a 42-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens, was knocked to the ground on a sack by Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou, two plays after he’d taken a low hit by defensive end Joseph Ossai that had resulted in a roughing-the-passer penalty.

Tagovailoa’s head snapped violently on the ground on the Tupou sack; his hands seized up immediately, and disturbingly, for national TV viewers, and he was on the turf for 10 minutes, surrounded by his shaken teammates, before he was taken to a hospital.

Fortunately, the story had a good ending – or at least, not a tragic one. Tagovailoa was released from the hospital, and he was able to fly back with the team to South Florida after the 27-15 Dolphins loss.

But even before the game was over, “s–t just got real for the (D)olphins,” UVA and NFL alum Chris Long tweeted, who observed, “This is going to play out loudly.”

“Player health and safety is at the core of the union’s mission,” the NFLPA said in a statement after the injury. “Our concern tonight is for Tua, and we hope for a full and speedy recovery. Our investigation into the potential protocol violation is ongoing.”

“There are so many reasons Tua shouldn’t have played tonight, and so many people – adults who know better – that allowed it. There will be lawyers,” Andrew Brandt, the executive director of the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at Villanova, tweeted.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel was the one last night left defending the decision to the media to play Tagovailoa.

The 39-year-old Yale alum, in his first year as a head coach who rose through the ranks as a long-time assistant to Mike and Kyle Shanahan, told reporters he was certain that Tagovailoa hadn’t been concussed on the hit in the Buffalo game, and noted that the QB had been cleared to play by an independent neurologist.

Asked if there was anything he could have, or should have, done differently, he answered, forcefully, “Absolutely not,” adding “(t)hat would be irresponsible in the first place, and I shouldn’t be in this position. I do not have any — absolutely zero — patience for, or will ever put a player in position for them to be in harm’s way. That is not what I’m about at all, and no outcome of a game will ever influence me being irresponsible as the head coach of the football team.”

Chris Graham

I write books, two on UVA basketball, one on pro wrestling, one on politics, which is getting to be like pro wrestling more and more each day. I've finished three marathons, but my maranthoning days are over. I'm also a progressive who voted for Biden, but we need another Democrat in 2024. (Sorry, Joe, and thanks.) Want to reach me? Try [email protected]