Sometimes, in the NFL, circumstances conspire to create a moment of intense interest, for reasons that are not necessarily related to the competition to be organized between the teams on the field.
Today, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa returns to football after a horrific moment 24 days ago in Cincinnati when he lost consciousness after his head hit the turf. He finally left on a stretcher.
Tua’s return takes place during prime time. On Sunday night football. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To make matters worse, the injury occurred four days after Tua returned to a game despite showing clear signs of what the revised concussion protocol now officially calls “ataxia”. After an investigation, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed to disagree on adherence to protocol, with a carefully crafted statement allowing the league to pretend all was well and the union to argue that things have broken down.
Regardless of the semantics as to whether Tua had anything other than a back injury on September 25, the protocol was changed to ensure that in the future there will not be a situation where everyone, except the doctors and the player, believes that the player should not play.
As much as Tua would rather not be the face of heightened susceptibility to head injuries (and he made that clear to Maria Taylor of Football night in America that he wants nothing to do with having his name attached to the new rule), it’s currently impossible not to think of Tua when thinking about concussions, and it’s currently impossible not to think about concussions cerebral thinking of Tua.
Given that in two straight games he absorbed the contact that caused his head to hit the turf, everyone will be watching tonight to see if it happens again and, if so, what it looks like. after that happened. Indeed, some people will log into the game with no interest in the action other than to see if Tua suffers from another actual or potential concussion.
Is this true or false? It does not matter. It will happen. The inherent and organic drama of the situation will attract onlookers. This is how most humans are wired.
The more immediate question is whether he will be able to protect himself against the kind of contact that could cause his head to hit the turf again. This means, among other things, developing a willingness to throw the ball instead of waiting for a receiver to be open.
“I’ve always been a person who tries to make things happen,” Tua told reporters earlier this week. “Like that’s always been my mindset, if you will. Throwing the ball hasn’t been something I’ve done really well in the past because I try to make plays. So just learn from that – if it’s not there, it’s OK to throw it away. It’s the longevity of my ability to quarterback this team and not try to make something out of thin air.
Whether he can make that adjustment while he’s in the middle of the fray remains to be seen. If he can’t, the risk of another potential head injury will be heightened. And it’s fair to wonder how many more concussions he might have before doctors or his family intervene conclusively.
“It was a bit difficult for my parents,” Tua told Maria Taylor. “My parents were – they had a lot of things to tell me before the injury, then things in the hospital, then after that, then going through the interview process, going to second opinion doctors. For me, I love football.
Although he didn’t say it right away, it looks like he’s starting to feel some pressure from his parents to consider not playing. It’s an increasingly common question for football players at all levels. And any parent who endured the emotions that Tua’s parents went through in Cincinnati on Sept. 29 would want more than anything else to never have that feeling again.
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