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Knocking the sense out of the NFL

By T.J. Simers

If you are tough, you are admired, and especially in the NFL.

But you can be tough, and stupid as well.

The TV announcers piled it on when Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert injured his rib cartilage and hung in there tough two weeks ago. They gushed.

Then he came back to play for the Chargers in the next game knowing he could tough it out. He wouldn’t say if he took a pain-killing injection because tough guys don’t admit such things. The Chargers were so inspired, they got pummeled.

And it looked to me like Chargers’ head coach Brandon Staley was a wimp, unable to tell his quarterback to take a seat. More than that, he continued to play Herbert after the Chargers went down by 28 points and the game could no longer be won.

It’s obvious Herbert is calling the Chargers’ shots, and in a macho game, the macho quarterback is going to stay out there and prove his toughness no matter how stupid he might be.

Head coaches are supposed to make such tough decisions.

Now I wonder about Miami coach Mike McDaniel and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Two weeks ago, Tua took a hit, came to his feet and stumbled badly, too dizzy to leave the field on his own.

There was a time when we applauded that, knocking the stuffings out of player, and look at that!

In the days before CTE and head trauma, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see Tua return to the field after halftime. But we know now via deaths to really cool people like Junior Seau that blows to the head are devastating.

How many times had we cheered for Seau after watching him trying to behead a ball-carrier by leading with his own helmet? The more explosive, the more we cheered.

But now we know better, or supposedly we do. We demand that our athletes who take a big lick be cleared by a doctor before returning to the field. We penalize the guys who deliver the big helmet hits, instant replay determining if it was “targeting,” in college football such a conviction resulting in ejection.

There is no way I expected to see the return of Tua two weeks ago after halftime, taking for granted we are more informed about the head these days.

But I know how much chicanery goes on behind the NFL scenes. I covered the NFL on a daily basis for more than a decade. It used to be steroids driving the game on the hush-hush, and probably still is.

But knowing Seau shot himself in the chest so he could preserve his head for medical study, I have become so much more sensitive to head injuries and the pressure not to play.

Team doctors have always worked as if taking orders from coaches and owners, and of course they are. Someone doesn’t remain a team doctor for any length of time if they aren’t getting the players back on the field at warp speed.

I think Tua set a modern-day record in this age of CTE, and just as importantly, his team won.

I remember doing stories on great players like Al Toon, who got knocked silly so often he had to spend his later years working with horses because people were too much for him. I also learned at the time that a player getting a concussion was going to be more susceptible to getting another.

So, was Miami surprised to find Tua lying on the ground, his fingers twitching as we were told, because he injured his head again? If you have a son, is there any doubt whether he will play football?

The NFL is immensely popular, but head injuries have the potential to sabotage the sport. The NFL took to selling clothes and appealing to mothers several years ago to keep mom’s input as positive as possible when it came to the family decision for a kid playing the sport or not.

But as Tua and the Dolphins showed moms everywhere, winning at all costs is what is really important in the NFL. And as almost anyone in the NFL would tell you, tough times never last, but tough people do.

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