To measure the degree of the national obsession, consider that Monday watercooler discussion fixates not on the 174 people who died at one of their football matches on Saturday but on the one quarterback who suffered a concussion during one of our football games Thursday.
The millions of armchair quarterbacks morphed into armchair doctors diagnosing Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Can the armchair doctors really spot a concussion from their living rooms?
In the case of Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou ragdolling Tagovailoa to the carpet on Thursday night, the answer seems, well, yes. The hit looked the part, and more importantly the quarterback appeared unconscious with his fingers in a ghastly, rigor mortis-like state.
But with concussions, looks may deceive. The hit on Tagovailoa the previous Sunday against the Buffalo Bills appeared more like a gratuitous push. But his rise from the turf, in which he shook his head, stumbled, and ultimately collapsed to a knee, beamed signs of a concussed player. But the Dolphins starter insisted the injury involved his back, and trained medical professionals examining him cleared him for play. During the second half, Tagovailoa led his squad to victory over one of the best teams in the NFL.
With no test to diagnose a concussion, the clinical evaluation and not the pixelated examination remains the least-worst option. With no pill but only time to cure, players eager to keep their spot and compete try to skip recovery.
The latter rather than the former should serve as the main concern for football leagues. For more than a century, coaches have found alleviating this problem more vexatious than defending the option.
During the brutal 1905 season that resulted in the adoption of the forward pass and the neutral zone, and a ban on forward motion, the next year, Harvard captain Dan Hurley suffered a concussion against Dartmouth.
Crimson coach Bill Reid took player safety so seriously that he ordered Hurley to stay overnight in the infirmary and stay out of the Only Game That Matters.
“I’m going to play in that game if I have to jump through that window,” Daly told his brother in the hospital. “To play against Yale this year has been the ambition of my life and there will be a fight if they don’t let me out.”
The caution came with consequence. Harvard’s captain stayed off the field. Yale won on it.
Reid’s caution stemmed in part from a study he authorized of the team by two doctors who documented eight dislocated shoulders, one broken leg, thirteen sprained ankles, and nineteen concussions among Harvard players that season.
“Concussion was treated by the players in general as a trivial injury, and rather regarded as a joke,” the study concluded. “The real seriousness of the injury is not certain. Our own experience with the after-effects of the cases is not sufficient for us to draw any definite conclusions, but from conversation with various neurologists, we have obtained very various opinions in regard to the possibility of serious after-effects.”
The nature of competitors in 2022 resembles that of competitors in 1905. But the dangers of the game, as a result of rule changes, the mandating of helmets, and safer practices, dissipated. Then the media fixated on player deaths. Now we obsess over mild traumatic brain injuries.
This, in a strange way, represents progress. Utopians, who regard concussions as a problem to eliminate rather than mitigate, do not know better or worse but only perfect and imperfect. So, in furtherance of their agenda, the concussion porn of the Tagovailoa sack, one can expect, replays on par with the Malcolm Butler interception or that Odell Beckham Jr. catch.