Of course the answer is “never.”
That question was asked in a tweet Emmanuel Acho, a former NFL linebacker and now a game analyst on Fox Sports. He had just watched Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa thrown to the field on his head so violently in a game last week that he lay contorted with his hands spasming in the manner associated with brain injuries. It was the second time within a week that Tagovailoa had apparently suffered a concussion: just five days earlier, in a game against the Buffalo Bills, he had to be helped to the sideline by trainers. Nonetheless, the Miami team doctor, supposedly following the NFL’s concussion protocols, okayed his returned to the field 30 minutes later. After the second game that saw the quarterback get hit on the head hard enough to require him to be helped off the field—this time via stretcher— Dolphins Coach Mike McDaniel told reporters that watching his quarterback look so hurt on the field was “an emotional moment,” but that he was relieved “that he didn’t have anything more serious than a concussion.”
You know: one of those thingies that cause the fatal brain disease CTE and that has been shown to cause premature dementia, violent tendencies and suicidal urges in ex-players. Nothing more serious than one of those. Whew! The league paid a $1 billion settlement to a group of former players with cognitive defects from similar concussions, but the NFL regards a billion dollars as a reasonable cost of doing business. It made about 11 billion in 2021, and will top that in 2022.
“I don’t think this guy gets it,” responded Chris Nowinski, a co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation on Twitter. “A concussion is a traumatic brain injury & posturing suggests brain stem injury. It’s pretty high on the list of serious medical consequences of football.”
Oh, they all “get it.” Nowinski knows that. What is so infuriating is that it’s so obvious what is going on and what will happen. This is like watching an excruciating, slow motion version of a scenario we have seen dozens of times before. The NFL is acting exactly like Larry Vaughn, the mayor of the fictional island based on Martha’s Vineyard in “Jaws.” He just hopes the man-eating shark he knows is cruising the shore line will go away, or magically not bite anyone, or at least hold off until the Fourth of July is over.
Larry is an idiot, but the NFL is just ruthless. It just doesn’t care. It knows that pro football can still attract fans and sponsors and make billions while slowly destroying players’ brains, and will keep doing so until there is some massive, tipping point tragedy or disaster that forces them to change the game in ways they fear will make it less profitable. And maybe that crisis will never come. Meanwhile, nobody knows how many former players, like Tagovailoa, will be disabled waiting for it. Maybe the NFL will be able to pay out a settlement then, too, like a fine, and go back to business as usual one more time, for who knows how many profitable years.
Back in June of 2021, I pronounced this cycle Larry Vaughn Effect, prompted then by the infuriating story of the South Florida condo tower that collapsed after authorities and regulators kept procrastinating regarding the urgent need for structural repairs, hoping to avoid the expense and the responsibility until they could retire and collect their pensions and it became someone else’s problem. The definitive description of this sick, incompetent, and in the NFL’s case, greedy syndrome is epitomized by the words of shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus), who tells Larry,” I think that I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and BITES YOU ON THE ASS!”