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The NFL’s concussion problem needs an external solution


It shouldn’t be the Miami Dolphins who announced early this week that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa could be held out of Sunday’s game against the Recent York Jets in Recent Jersey, held 10 days after the Bengals’ 6-foot-3, 340-pound defensive lineman Josh Tupou whipped Tagovailoa, 100 kilos lighter, down hard. The tackle banged Tagovailoa’s head off the bottom.

After which, as he slowly rolled over together with his hands in front of his face mask, his fingers stiffened and, grotesquely, pointed in numerous directions. It was what we’d imagine an electrocution to appear to be.

Tagovailoa was eventually secured to a stretcher. And with the hands of six men on his gurney like pallbearers guiding a coffin, surrounded by that every one too familiar prayer circle of gloomy NFL players when certainly one of their very own has been incapacitated by their violence, he was carted off the sphere, out of sight.

The diagnosis was concussion.

“We’re just focused on ensuring he’s at optimal health after which crossing that bridge, so it’s somewhat early for a definitive timeline beyond that,” Dolphins Coach Mike McDaniel said Monday in explaining why Tagovailoa wouldn’t play this week.

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But were Tagovailoa a combat sport athlete — a boxer or mixed martial artist — there could be a timeline for return as perspicuous as if he were found to be taking banned PEDs. He wouldn’t play this month. Probably not next month, either. And it wouldn’t be the team or league’s decision.

Because as brutal, as barbaric as fighting sports are, athletes within the ring or the octagon who’re rendered impaired by knockout — i.e. concussed — are protected by state laws that govern their activities. Those laws err on the side of utmost caution — keeping fighters out of competition, and even practice, for a month or more.

In Recent Jersey, where the Dolphins will travel this weekend to play, state law for concussed combat athletes would’ve forced Tagovailoa to the sideline. “Any boxer who’s knocked out in a boxing match,” Recent Jersey law states, “shall be suspended from boxing for a minimum 60-day period. The knocked-out boxer shall not be permitted to take part in a bout until an intensive medical examination is accomplished and submitted …”

Even for the 2 weeks after Sunday’s contest — when the Dolphins are to return home to Miami for a pair of games — Tagovailoa could be a mere spectator. To be certain, when a 58-year-old Evander Holyfield was KO’d somewhat over a 12 months ago in an boxing match in Hollywood, Fla., the Florida State Boxing Commission medically suspended him from fighting within the state for 30 days.

That’s what should await Tagovailoa, if football’s claim about protecting its players from the risks that result in mentally debilitating CTE is real: regulation outside of the game. It’s time for the sport to simply accept the identical drastic actions as fighting sports to maintain the injured brain out of more harm’s way, regardless of what the team doctor, or outside physician working for the game, decides.

At 58, the long-diminished champion boxer Holyfield shouldn’t have been granted a license to fight. But Tagovailoa probably shouldn’t have played against the Bengals on a Thursday after having been diminished the Sunday before when a success left him looking like a Bourbon Street reveler at 3 within the morning.

What happened to Tagovailoa within the span of those few days elicited criticism that the NFL’s directives for handling concussed players were inadequate. However the league isn’t at fault alone. It’s all of us. That’s football’s protocol problem.

It’s the players who see themselves as gladiators. “It’s war,” tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. infamously expressed long before he was convicted as a rapist. “They’re on the market to kill you, so I’m [going] to kill them. If I didn’t hurt him, he’d hurt me. They were gunning for my legs. I’m going to return right back at them. I’m a f—ing soldier!”

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It’s the parents and guardians who see their sons as Lotto tickets and sit quietly by while they amble in regards to the field despite injury.

It’s the fans who grow up imagining players as cyborgs in a computerized game, as supermen who can’t be broken, and increasingly as mere fantasy characters on a spreadsheet or website.

It’s those of us within the media who prop up those prototypes, as sport scientists Eric Anderson and Edward M. Kian observed in a 2012 journal paper titled “Examining Media Contestation of Masculinity and Head Trauma within the National Football League”: “The image of the emotionally and physically impenetrable football player has been reified by the dominant sporting media. Media-portrayed sporting narratives of heroic disposition, even within the face of debilitating injury or risk of death, are produced as a part of orthodox notions of commitment to sport and victory. That is for several reasons. Foremost it’s since the preponderance of people in sport media is men.”

Combat sports and football aren’t waged, in fact, with the identical purpose in mind. It’s the specific aim of a fighter to discombobulate his or her opponent, with the coup de grace being to concuss.

But football has at all times been a collision sport, with getting one’s bell rung — as old coaches once called what they didn’t know was brain trauma — a frequent consequence. And despite all of the rule changes, precautions and equipment improvements meant to diminish brain damage, players are greater and stronger and appear to play with a greater esprit de martyrdom than ever before. Greater than a dozen players who joined Tagovailoa on the NFL’s injury list for this weekend were indicated as concussion victims.

But all of them may very well be cleared for kickoffs shortly, regardless of how much we’ve learned in recent times in regards to the long-term dangers of head injuries in (and out of) sports. Since the game needs its stars. Because the celebrities are the heartbeat of the largest, richest, most addictive sport on the planet. Since the players earn the league and its broadcast partners and Madden game-makers bazillions. Because we just can’t get enough.

So if we will’t control ourselves and the sport to which we’re all addicted, some entity outside of it should.

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