Athletes push themselves to be better every day. An athlete’s dedication to their team and the game is one of the strongest visible commitments there is. The range of intensity differs, but their efforts remain constant.
The immense pressure players are under has become apparent in the news, most recently with Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
In week three of the National Football League season, the Miami Dolphins faced the Buffalo Bills. During the first quarter of Sunday’s game, Tagovailoa suffered from a “minor” back injury. Many viewed this as the start of a rabbit hole of issues that have surfaced in the NFL over the last few weeks.
At the end of the second quarter, the Bills’ linebacker, Matt Milano, railed Tagovailoa into the ground after a pass play. Tagovailoa slammed head-first into the ground, leaving viewers around the nation distressed about his health; seconds later he was back on two feet. The panic for his health arose once again when Tagovailoa began to stumble and collapse after seconds upright. His teammates guided him off the field, leading him to an examination. It was later ruled that his back locked up, leading him to lose his balance and hit his head.
Unfortunately, injuries are very common in the sports world. In some cases it is unavoidable, but awareness on and off the field helps take care of players, both physically and mentally.
The issue is not that Tagovailoa got hurt, but the fact that he continued playing. Though I can’t speak for the Miami Dolphins or the NFL, looking at the facts, he was not in good physical health nor in a healthy mental state to play. Going into the third quarter, it was announced that Tagovailoa passed concussion protocol at halftime. He then went on to play in the rest of the game, and his presence helped lead the Dolphins to a 21-19 win.
Though the Dolphins won, their decision left people nationwide questioning the ethical examination of players, as well as the conjecture of teams’ encouragement for players to work through injury.
In week four, the Dolphins faced the Cincinnati Bengals just four days later for the Thursday Night Football matchup. Moments before kickoff, fans wondered if Tagovailoa would be playing.
During the game, Tagovailoa not only played but was taken off the field on a stretcher during the second quarter due to another head injury. His injury in this game was caused by Bengals’ defensive lineman Josh Tupou, who slammed him into the ground. Watching this live had viewers wondering if it was ethical that he was playing.
Tua Tagovailoa’s situation is not the first to display ignorance of concussion care within the NFL. Unfortunately, it won’t be the last. Tagovailoa never should have taken the field in this game. The deeper question to focus on is “why” he took the field, which is a current question many are wondering.
Following the incident, the NFL released an article on Oct. 2, titled “Changes coming to NFL concussion protocol a needed step for player safety,” which acknowledges the issue at hand while also pushing for more effective concussion protocol. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction to support players and their physical and mental health.
Understanding the level of injury and commitment to the game at the professional level, I went to explore the intensity of it at the collegiate level.
I sat down with a Fairfield University men’s rugby team member, Chris Giunta ‘25. Giunta serves as a starter for Fairfield’s rugby team, who competes in the highly competitive Division I-A classified team through the U.S. Rugby.
Similar to football, rugby is a high-contact sport, which often leads to injury. This being said, Giunta gave some tips for players to take care of themselves before taking care of the game.
“Your body is the most important aspect of being an athlete. A lot of times we try to let our bodies listen to our minds, but we need to let our minds listen to our bodies,” Guinta intently stated.
The importance of listening to the body over the mind will be immensely beneficial in the long run.
Relating to the Miami Dolphins and the NFL, a stronger commitment should have been made to protecting Tagovailoa’s mind and body, equivalent to the commitment he himself made to playing through injury in these games.
Giunta expressed the true commitment to the game, stating “We get wrapped up in wanting to play to our highest potential even if our bodies need a break.”
He also stated the importance of listening to your body and being able to find support amongst teammates and coaches.
The last piece of advice Giunta offered helps remind athletes to put themselves and their health first. “As athletes, we must listen to our bodies, and give ourselves enough time to get back to 100%.”
During the 2022-23 Fairfield University athletic season, it is encouraged that athletes take care of themselves, and reach out to coaches, teammates, friends and family if they need support.
If additional support is needed, the Fairfield University athletic department offers mental health resources for student-athletes.
Take care of yourself, your teammates and your friends!