That's a gut-wrenching notion for a vibrant, uber-talented NFL quarterback who just turned 24 in March. It's all but unthinkable for an emerging star who just two weeks ago threw for a career-high 469 yards and a Miami Dolphins record-tying six touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens. If the game of football had dealt the former Alabama star a fairer hand when it comes to injuries, retirement would be a dirty word.
But it didn't. At all.
And after what Tagovailoa has been through over the Dolphins' last two games, there's no shame in the R-word.
On Sunday, the back of Tagovailoa's head hit the turf hard during Miami's win over the Buffalo Bills, and the quarterback staggered and fell while trying to walk off the field. The Dolphins put him through in-game concussion protocols and initially announced it as a head injury, only to declare it a back injury a short time later, and allowed Tagovailoa to re-enter the game. Then came a short practice week for a Thursday game, not ideal for recovery, during which Tagovailoa was listed as questionable. That set the stage for an even scarier injury when Tagovailoa again had the back of his head slung to the ground, this time by the Cincinnati Bengals' Josh Tupou. The result was a concussion severe enough that his fingers stiffened awkwardly, and he was removed on a stretcher.
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Legitimate medical experts are mincing no words about Tagovailoa's health.
A neuroscientist and the founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Chris Nowinski tweeted before Thursday night's game that Tagovailoa shouldn't be allowed to play, and asserted he suffered a concussion last Sunday, not a back injury as the club claimed. A former NFL head athletic trainer who served on the Sports Concussion Medical Advisory Board, Mike Ryan, identified Tagovailoa's unsettling involuntary finger reaction as a neurological response to head trauma. Meanwhile, the NFL and the NFLPA are conducting a joint review to determine whether the Dolphins followed concussion protocols properly in the aftermath of the Sunday incident. The Dolphins, it should be noted, are standing by their diagnosis of a back injury.
Nobody who watched his body's two cries for help could deny that the optics were highly concerning. At the same time, nobody outside Tagovailoa and the small circle of medical professionals dealing directly with his recovery, myself especially, can presume to know what's best for his long-term health. We aren't privy to results of the tests that will be run on his brain as part of concussion protocols. If he should retire, it's a doctor's place to recommend that.
But it doesn't take a doctor to suggest that Tagovailoa should at least be willing to entertain the thought. It doesn't take a doctor to point out that his body, despite his prolific talent, might not be long for the league. Among other injuries, he's overcome a frightening hip dislocation that ended his college career, A year ago, he sustained multiple rib fractures in a 35-0 loss to the Bills. Even if the Dolphins' diagnosis of a back injury on Sunday passes investigatory scrutiny, it's concerning that it seized on him enough to cause an on-field collapse. But head injuries are next-level alarming, never to be placed in the same category with cracked bones or joint sprains. And Tagovailoa has now also endured one of the most visibly worrisome concussions I've seen in 30 years covering the sport.
There isn't a more serious issue facing the NFL than head trauma. Mounting evidence of long-term effects from concussions is at the core of ever-evolving safety measures.
It's also at the core of some early retirements.
Citing concussion issues, Pro Bowl lineman Ali Marpet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers retired in May at age 28. Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly, who dealt with significant concussion problems as well, also retired at 28. Former Baltimore Raven John Urschel retired at 26, two days after a study linked the sport to the degenerative brain disease CTE. And yes, they've even retired as young as Tagovailoa: Concussions forced former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland to hang up his cleats at 24.
Sadly, this has all come just as Tagovailoa's pro career appeared primed to take off. But forget what his NFL career could become. Consider instead what his life could become.
Forget money. As the No. 5 overall pick of the 2020 draft, he could walk away from the game with generational wealth, thanks to a guaranteed contract worth more than $30 million. Tagovailoa, the relentless competitor that he is, will no doubt look to get back on the field as quickly as possible.
Here's hoping he stays healthy in doing so.
Here's also hoping he doesn't dismiss the R-word without due consideration.
Reach Chase Goodbread at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Should Dolphins, ex-Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa consider retirement?