A narrative has emerged in the aftermath of Tua Tagovailoa‘s latest placement in the concussion protocol. It goes like this: “Tua should not play again this year.”
That makes little sense. If/when he’s cleared to return to play this season, why shouldn’t he? Certain concerns regarding optics could prompt the Dolphins to not use him despite being cleared (like they did against the Vikings in October), but if he’s cleared, he’s cleared.
The more relevant question isn’t whether he shouldn’t play again this year, but whether he shouldn’t play again, ever. The issue has apparently emerged among the player’s family; NBC’s Cris Collinsworth explained during a Steelers-Dolphins game earlier this year that, when Tua was asked whether his parents are OK with him continuing to play, Tua said, “I don’t know.”
Although Tua won’t want to walk away, he may be facing greater family pressure to stop. And, at some point, he may find himself unable to get any doctor to clear him to play, similar to former NFL running back Jahvid Best. The physics aren’t on Tua’s side; he’s smaller than most quarterbacks, and he has shown an inability to date to protect himself against hits that cause his head to strike the ground.
The broader question is whether Tua’s concussion history will become a scarlet letter, prompting the Dolphins to move on from him and other teams to shun him. With so many quarterbacks never having concussion issues, a player who has several of them runs the risk of becoming the latest victim of unspoken collusion, where 32 supposedly independent businesses make business decisions aimed at advancing their collective best interests.
Right or wrong, the people who truly run the league surely realize that it’s not good for business to have periodic controversies regarding one player’s propensity to suffer concussions. And so the broader football machine, made up of interchangeable parts that are regularly changed out, would potentially reject Tua in order to get past this question of whether and when and if he’ll have yet another concussion.
Despite the league’s general belief that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, constant concussion discussion is bad for everybody. It gets parents to start thinking about not letting their kids play football. Which threatens to choke off the supply of future pro football players.
So, for the NFL, the best outcome could be for Tua’s parents to get him to stop playing. If he doesn’t make that decision on his own, the NFL’s doctors and/or the NFL’s teams may eventually make it for him.