Isaiah Buggs was watching Thursday night’s NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins when Bengals nose tackle Josh Tupou sacked Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, throwing the third-year signal caller to the ground.
Tagovailoa’s head smashed so hard into the Paycor Stadium turf in Cincinnati that his fingers seized up, a sign of neurological trauma, according to the Prime Video broadcast.
Tagovailoa stayed on the field for roughly 10 minutes before he was taken off by stretcher and transported to a local hospital. He was diagnosed with a brain injury and later flew home with the team.
Buggs, a Detroit Lions defensive tackle who played with Tagovailoa at Alabama in 2017-18, found the scene too disturbing to watch.
“After that, I kind of stopped watching,” Buggs said. “I was shook up. Tua’s a great guy, he’s a great leader, he’s a hell of a player. We was together at ‘Bama and I’m pretty sure all the other ‘Bama guys are looking at Tua as well, like, ‘Man, something’s got to be done about this.’ In my opinion, safety is first. I love football, but we also got lives outside of football, and we can’t play football forever.”
Tagovailoa’s injury was a flash point for the NFL on Friday, with player advocates calling for the league to change its concussion policy.
Tagovailoa left the Dolphins’ Week 3 win over the Buffalo Bills when his head was slammed to the ground on a sack. He lost his balance as he returned to his feet, but returned to the game after being diagnosed with what the Dolphins called a lower back injury.
Because he was not deemed to have a brain injury, Tagovailoa was not placed in concussion protocol during that game or afterward.
The NFL Players Association has called for a review of Tagovailoa’s first injury and the league’s concussion policy.
“That’s real scary,” Buggs said. “Just seeing a great football player in a position like that, that’s real scary. This game is dangerous and I think the league should do a better job of protecting our guys. At the same time, it’s entertainment but it’s also our life and our health, so we definitely got to be woke about that.”
Buggs said players need to do a better job advocating for their own health interests, though he acknowledged that can be a difficult thing to do, given the competitive nature of the sport.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel defended the team’s handling of Tagovailoa’s initial injury Friday, telling reporters Tagovailoa had “no head injury symptoms whatsoever.”
On Friday, Tagovailoa still was dealing with headaches, McDaniel said, and had no immediate timetable for return.
“We take (brain injuries) serious,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “I mean, very serious, and I sure do because that’s the one thing — that’s the one area that’s different. Shoulders and hamstrings and ankles and knees, but the gray matter’s a little different, it’s a lot different. So we take that serious and we lean on our professionals.”