In late December, after Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered his most recent concussion due to his helmet striking the ground, former U.S. Olympic judoka Jason Morris contacted us via email with a simple suggestion for Tua — try judo.
“I was watching your show with Peter King talking about Tua’s concussion situation and the fact he keeps hitting his head on the ground,” Morris said. “I have forever thought and wanted the NFL to employ an expert Judo player/coach to teach the football players a little Judo, which starts with learning how to fall properly as we take tons a falls everyday but know how to naturally take that fall without hitting our heads.”
His instincts were right. In a follow-up email from Jason last night, he pointed out that Tua is indeed working with Judo.
Frankly, we missed it in the days preceding the Super Bowl. Tua, as it turns out, explained on Up & Adams that he’ll devote one day per week to Judo training in an effort to learn how to fall in a way that doesn’t result in his head striking the turf.
“We’ve got a plan set up,” Tua said. “I’ll be doing Judo on Fridays just so that I can kind of figure out understanding my body and how to fall. . . . Just trying to help myself.”
It’s important that he does. He suffered at least two, and probably three, concussions during the 2022 season because his helmet struck the turf after being legally hit. As we’ve said all along, the physics are against him, given his size. He has to figure out how to protect himself, whether it’s finding a way to avoid those hits or, as he’s doing, finding a way to take those hits without hitting his head.
And it’s clear he’s moving forward with his career, hopeful that he’ll be able to avoid additional concussions in 2023.
“I’ve had all the information that I need to move forward with the decision that I made with me and my wife and my family,” Tagovailoa told Yahoo Sports during Super Bowl week. “You’re playing this sport understanding and knowing the precautions. These things can happen. It’s football. It’s a physical sport.”
He’s right. The problem is that, right or wrong, Tua has become the face of head injuries in football. And, at some point, his next concussion will be the one that will prevent doctors from clearing him to play again.
That’s why it will be interesting to see whether the Dolphins extend Tua’s contract or pick up his fifth-year option. Regardless of the fact that his play improved dramatically under coach Mike McDaniel, teams want and need their best quarterbacks to be available to play. Tua missed four games, left another one and returned, left another one and didn’t return, and remained in the Christmas Day loss to the Packers while, in hindsight, impaired by a concussion.
For Tua, the challenge becomes avoiding further head injuries. Specifically, it means learning how to either not take hits that knock him to the ground, or to land in a way that keeps his helmet from striking the turf, again.
Looking at the situation more broadly, Jason Morris seems to be right. Maybe more teams should be steering their players toward Judo, in order to teach them how to fall in a way that protects them against suffering head injuries. And if the teams aren’t doing it, maybe players should be doing it on their own.