Concussion expert warned Tua Tagovailoa shouldn't play, now says brain damage is possible

Chris Nowinski had a bad feeling hours before the Dolphins started Thursday night and had a worse feeling after.
On Friday, Nowinski, a leading concussion expert, told The Post he was concerned Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa could have permanent brain damage.
Nowinski, a Boynton Beach resident, had warned that if the Dolphins allowed Tagovailoa to play the Cincinnati Bengals, it would be a "massive step backwards" for the NFL's treatment of concussions.
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Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is pulled off the field after suffering a head injury.
"If he has a second concussion that destroys his season or career, everyone involved will be sued and should lose their jobs, including coaches," Nowinski tweeted three and a half hours before the game.
Tagovailoa was playing and suffered a concussion. Now the Dolphins and the NFL face tough questions about whether the league's concussion protocol either failed or was not followed because Tagovailoa played Buffalo four days after his injury.
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"I will not be proud to be right," said Nowinski on Friday.
It hit Nowinski both personally and professionally. He is co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization advancing research into traumatic brain injury. His foundation examined the brains of Nick Buoniconti, Jim Kiick, Earl Morrall and other dolphins after they died to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Nowinski is also a former Harvard soccer player and WWE performer whose wrestling career was cut short due to concussions. He's constantly looking for athletes who can endure what he's been through. Though the Dolphins say Tagovailoa didn't suffer a concussion against Buffalo, Nowinski questioned that after seeing him trip after hitting his head on the turf.
If Tagovailoa then had a concussion, that would mean he suffered two in four days. That's not nearly the same as two spreading concussions, Nowinski said.
"Essentially, your brain takes weeks or even more than a month to get back to normal," Nowinski said. “And that means your cells are damaged and need time to recover. They need time to return to normal functioning. And if you have what's called a second neurometabolic cascade before the first is resolved, you take cells that would have recovered and kill them.
"You're talking about permanent brain damage."
Concussions struck Chris Nowinski not far from home
Nowinski teamed up with Dr. Robert Cantu to create the Concussion Legacy Foundation in 2007, inspired in part by the suicide of Andre Waters, the former Philadelphia Eagles defenseman from Pahokee. The foundation now has a worldwide reach. That and the many years that have passed add to Nowinski's frustration with dealing with Tagovailoa.
"It's hard to see," Nowinski said. "Two concussions too close together ended my career, destroyed my brain, and 20 years later that shouldn't happen to anyone."
Testifying before the US Senate, Chris Nowinski is co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
When Tagovailoa first went down against the Bills, he wobbled as he got up and appeared to shake off cobwebs as teammates came over to help. For many, the scene showed the classic signs of a head injury. Reporters covering the game were informed that he suffered as a result. Since the injury happened in the second quarter, Tagovailoa was checked on the touchline and in the dressing room at half-time, but played the entire second half.
It wasn't until after the game that the Dolphins and Tagovailoa said he was evaluated for a concussion but never had a head injury. Instead, he was limited by back and ankle injuries.
Nowinski tweeted Sunday that he was calling BS "about the 'back tweak theory.'"
On Friday, Nowinski said Tagovailoa had shown "zero signs" of a back injury, adding: "No doctor should have believed that was the cause of him falling and shaking his head from side to side as if one were to." shake off the cobwebs.”
On Thursday night, Tagovailoa went down again, this time at the hands of defensive tackle Josh Tupou, who body slammed Tagovailoa onto a sack. Cameras zoomed in on Tagovailoa's hands, which revealed awkwardly curled fingers. Viewers were later told that this is a classic neurological reaction when someone suffers a concussion.
So is it possible that Tagovailoa's back also spasmed in the Bills game as a neurological reaction?
"No, no, no," Nowinski said, explaining that Tagovailoa showed five independent signs of concussion on Sunday, some of which never appear outside of a brain injury.
On Thursday, Tagovailoa was taken to a nearby hospital in an ambulance, but was discharged and flew back to South Florida overnight with teammates. On Friday, coach Mike McDaniel said his quarterback will be undergoing an MRI and that it's too early to even consider when Tagovailoa might play again. He said he had confidence that concussion protocol would be followed and stressed he would never field a player who was physically unable to be on the field.
"These are people that we invest in together and someone I've become very, very close with," McDaniel said of Tagovailoa. "So when it comes to head injuries and concussions, the only thing I'm concerned about with something this serious is the person first."
Nowinski asked if the Dolphins or the league prioritized Tagovailoa's health.
"To risk it, it just seems like we haven't learned anything in the last 20 years," Nowinski said. "It's like this is a sign of a huge cultural problem in the NFL. Aside from being a protocol error, the coaches saw him fall after being hit in the head and didn't think he might have a concussion. It just makes you wonder who these people are and how much they care about Tua as a person – how much they even care about the long-term health of football players.”
Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Support our journalism. Subscribe today.
This article originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post: Concussion Expert: Abuse Can Cause Brain Damage in Tua Tagovailoa
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