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Tua Tagovailoa's NFL future depends on him

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I never want to see Tua Tagovailoa on a football field again. My wish is that he announces his retirement soon after this latest concussion. And with his loving, growing family by his side, I’m hoping he’ll say something like he wants to see his son grow up, that they’ll all live happily ever after in Hawaii, just like he promised his grandfather.

I prefer this option – Tua standing and then walking away – rather than a continuation of the horrific scenes we’ve witnessed over the past four years. His hip out of place and his nose bloody and broken as he was carried away like a college quarterback. The back of his head hit the grass, stumbling on shaky legs this season as a starter for the Miami Dolphins. Then, just four days later, his fingers twisted and bent grotesquely, his brain and body responding to another savage blow.

He must leave the game while he can. It seems that many of us agree with this – wanting the best for Tua and believing that we know what is best for him.

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Then, from our keyboards, we relay our diagnoses for his latest head injury, as well as our plans for his future. The words “your” and “retirement” gained traction on Twitter. Analysts inside TV studios offered the Dolphins and Tagovailoa, their franchise quarterback selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft, the definitive next steps. This week, former NFL player Emmanuel Acho, preaching while looking into an FS1 camera, even tried to speak directly with Tagovailoa.

“Thine, you are the only one who lives inside your own head,” said Guess. “Tua, we cannot worry about your health any more than you do. Your friends cannot. Your family cannot. The NFL won’t, and your team can’t. Therefore, at this moment, I appeal to Tua to prioritize his health, prioritize his safety, prioritize his well-being.”

The debate over Tagovailoa’s health is yet another reminder of the thorny transactions between the athlete in the arena and the fan on the couch. We invest our time, money and passion in our favorite games and the people who play them, and in return we believe we deserve a little bit of ownership. Our opinions rule.

On Sundays, everyone is an expert, questioning a coach when he goes fourth down — and then berating him when he doesn’t. Every other day of the week, we still make our voices heard, even on issues off the field and within other people’s lives.

We’ve made it our place to lecture athletes on her behavior: how she tweets or vents, how she celebrates or how she protests. But even when the lofty admonitions come from a purer place — like wanting to protect a young man, who along with his wife recently welcomed a child into this world — that doesn’t make the moralizing any less tricky.

There is a belief that our opinions should count when it comes to Tua’s personal agency over her body and her career, which we somehow know what’s best for his. But why? Simply because we cringed when a Buffalo Bills quarterback slammed Tagovailoa to the ground like a doll that’s lost its padding and we’d rather not feel so uncomfortable again while enjoying our entertainment? Or because we rolled some tweets into one neuroscientist timeline or read a few lines from an article about head injuries and now feel informed enough to share our medical expertise?

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The tricky part is that we’re right. Tagovailoa’s future is more important than the Dolphins’ playoff hopes. And even without a medical degree, the general public knows enough about the mysteries and dangers of concussions and how multiple head injuries can lead to long-term problems. But if Tagovailoa, who will not play Sunday against the New England Patriots, decides to rest this week, then clear the concussion protocol and return to center again this season, we can back off, but we must still respect his decision.

Football remains a violent sport often played by volunteers. Tagovailoa is just one of millions who have raised their hands and run into the sport’s grip. And he kept coming back.

In his documentary, “Tua,” he casually reminisced about the November 2019 injury he suffered while quarterbacking Alabama. Although ‘Bama led by 28 points, Tagovailoa was still on the field in the third quarter against Mississippi State when he was pressed out of the pocket and squashed by two tacklers.

“I did not know how to say what was happening. I think my body was so shocked that I can’t remember what was going on at that moment,” Tagovailoa said.

He has since emerged as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. We’ve seen him blossom this year, with an ideal coach in his ear and athletic receivers in his group. But we also saw the scams. So many brutal ones that Tagovailoa became the sore, dazed face of the NFL’s concussions. Every time he’s out there and takes another hit, we wonder why he’s still playing.

I never want to see Tua Tagovailoa play football again. It would be great if he chose to live a happy, healthy life away from any head trauma. But I’m trying to remind myself that his autonomy over his career matters more than my opinion. While I can expect Tua to go away on his own, he should have the power to go his own way.

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