I’m no doctor. Neither are you. The chances anyone reading this has any training in sports-related neurological injuries is pretty slim, and by all that I mean to say that neither me, you nor your cousin in Cincy who drunk texted you from the last night’s game can diagnose the extent of Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa’s injury.
But since you’re here, you have at least some good common sense. We know what we watched last night: the terrifying image of Tagovailoa motionless after a hit, his arm raised and his fingers frozen in an awkward position that suggested, even to our medically ignorant eyes, some kind of neurological issue. I’ve seen it happen to boxers dozens of times, falling with their fists still cocked to throw a punch that they weren’t quick enough to get off before their opponent countered with a knockout shot.
Having spent about half of my career covering sports and as a lifelong fan, I’ve been to countless games and seen my share of nasty hits live. I was in Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium (I refuse to call it that other name) in 2008 when Hines Ward broke Keith Rivers’ jaw with a vicious but legal crackback block, ending Rivers’ rookie season. I was at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field (I refuse to call it that other name) during the 2008 AFC Championship game when Ryan Clark knocked out himself and Willis McGahee on another brutal hit. I was there again in 2019 when Mason Rudolph was concussed after his head hit the turf following a helmet-to-helmet contact. If I remember that one right, medical staff removed the facemask from his helmet with a power tool before carting Rudolph off the field.
The way Tagovailoa was laid out motionless last night was scarily reminiscent of the 2017 spinal injury that partially paralyzed and ended the career of Ryan Shazier, which happened in the same stadium. It’s a miracle that Shazier can even walk today. Point being, if you’ve seen enough football, you don’t need to be a doctor to recognize a serious injury. And if we know it from the stands and from in front of our TV screens, why do the Miami Dolphins want us to believe that Tagovailoa had any business being on the field for last night’s game just four days after we all saw this.
The irony here is that the Dolphins told us all that that first injury to Tagovailoa, where we just saw the back of his head bounce off the turf before he tried to stumble off the field with the balance of a drunk getting off a merry-go-round, wasn’t a head injury but one to his back. Somehow that was supposed to make it all better; if the injury was to his back, not his head, then he wasn’t concussed and if he wasn’t concussed, it was fine to send him back into the game, and fine for him to play again four days later. Maybe they should’ve asked Shazier if having a back injury rather than a head injury was any better. He saw what happened and knew it was a problem.
So did the NFL Players Association, which today is lining up lawyers and asking the Dolphins and the NFL, which swears it’s all about protecting players’ health, why Tagovailoa wasn’t on the bench for the Thursday night game.
I’d love to see how the Fins answer that.