NFL player safety scrutinized after Tagovailoa concussion

Last week, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Miami Dolphins 27-15 on “Thursday Night Football,” but the victory was not the main story of the night. Halfway through the second quarter, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was spun around and pulled to the ground by Josh Tupou for a sack.

The tackle caused Tagovailoa’s head to slam against the ground. Stunned on his back, he laid helpless as his arms and fingers uncontrollably cramped. He remained frozen on the field until the medical cart came out to retrieve him.

Tagovailoa, one of the most well-liked players in the league, exited the stadium to a large ovation from Bengals fans. He was then transported to a hospital where he was assessed. On the surface, this might have seemed like an unfortunate accident. That would be the case, if Tagovailoa was not already controversially playing after suffering what seemed to look like symptoms of a concussion just four days prior.

On the previous Sunday, Tagovailoa seemed disoriented after taking a hit in a game against the Buffalo Bills. Video of him stumbling while jogging and appearing dazed spread on social media. The Dolphins subsequently took him out of the game and put him into concussion protocol. However, he returned later in the game after he reportedly cleared it, and the Dolphins chalked the incident up as “back and ankle injuries.”

Nobody who was following along with the league was a stranger to the circumstances of the game against the Bills. The Dolphins were vying for a 3-0 start to the season and they were going against the preseason Super Bowl favorites in the Bills. These circumstances had many fans thinking that Tagovailoa was rushed back into the game after not completely passing the concussion protocol just so he would be able to play. This is why Tagovailoa’s availability just four days later baffled many.

Tagovailoa was confirmed to have a concussion following some tests at a local Cincinnati hospital, but he was cleared by doctors to be discharged that same night and was even able to fly with the team back to Miami. However, the treatment of Tagovailoa had both players and fans enraged, bringing into question the validity of the NFL’s attempts to protect players.

JC Tretter, the president of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) put out a statement on Twitter a day after Tagovailoa’s injury. “We are all outraged by what we have seen the last several days and scared for the safety of one of our brothers,” he said.

Tretter continued, “Our job as the NFLPA is to take every possible measure to get the facts and hold those responsible accountable.” He then announced that the NFLPA would be launching an investigation on both the Dolphins organization and the NFL to confirm the legitimacy of Tagovailoa clearing the concussion protocol on Sunday. He also called for the concussion protocol itself to be reassessed in order to maximize player safety.

The Dolphins have been adamant on Tagovailoa being genuinely cleared to play Thursday. In a press conference following the game, head coach Mike McDaniel said that “If there’s any inclination that someone has a concussion, they go into concussion protocol… We don’t mess with that, never have.”

However, McDaniel also downplayed Tagovailoa’s injuries in the same press conference, saying that the young quarterback did not “have anything more serious than a concussion.” Despite what it initially looked like, a concussion is still a serious form of brain trauma that should not be discredited.

On Saturday, the NFLPA terminated the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant involved in Tagovailoa’s concussion check last Sunday. They found that his tests were incomplete and he did not follow the appropriate steps when testing for any sort of brain trauma.

The Dolphins’ reckless handling of Tagovailoa completely contradicts what the NFL has been preaching to its fans more and more over the years. The supposed “player safety being the number one priority” shtick that the league has adopted was blatantly ignored in this scenario. Tagovailoa had suffered clear “no-go” symptoms on Sunday as Tretter described, and the fact that he was able to play the next game on a short week proves that something has to change within the league. If not, players will continuously be put at risk and situations like this will continue to happen.

Photo courtesy of Atlanta Falcons, Wikipedia