The Miami Dolphins have been without their starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the last three weeks. The third-year quarterback out of Alabama had to be brought off the field on a stretcher after suffering a concussion from a hit he sustained on Sept. 29 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Controversially, this injury happened four days after Tagovailoa was subjected to what appeared to be another head injury on Sept. 25 against the Buffalo Bills.
What followed was a myriad of discussion around player safety in the NFL and a review into the NFL’s concussion protocols. In the game against the Bills, Tagovailoa rose to his feet and immediately fell back down to the ground, unable to stand on his own.
He exited the game, and Dolphins personnel and independent neurotrauma consultants provided by the NFL cleared Tagovailoa of any potential head trauma and let him return to the game, which he finished without further issue.
One of those consultants has since been fired by the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) for making “several lapses of judgment.” The Dolphins deny any wrongdoing.
“This is a relationship that I have with this human being. I take that seriously,” said Dolphins Head Coach Mike McDaniel. “I wouldn’t have put him out there if there was any inclination given to me whatsoever that he was endangering himself from that previous game.”
Medical experts disagree with the Dolphins decision to allow Tagovailoa to return to the game, though.
“Anybody who has any training on concussions or cares about Tua as a human is not putting him on the field four days after what he showed on Sunday, so this makes it so much worse because we know that this could be career-ending or season-ending,” Dr. Chris Nowinski, the founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said per the Associated Press.
In the NFL’s “signs of a possible concussion,” it lists “stumbling, tripping, and instability.” All of these signs were exhibited by Tagovailoa when he was initially hit.
“Tua showed five distinct signs of concussion,” said Dr. Nowinski. “It just shows a lack of care for him as a human being.”
The NFL has made leaps and bounds in their concussion protocols over the years. Among these improvements is adding medical spotters from press boxes, who are able to stop the play if they have an inkling that a player has suffered head trauma. Even with this, Tagovailoa was still allowed to re-enter the game.
“A failure in medical judgment is a failure of the protocols when it comes to the well-being of our players,” said JC Tretter, the NFLPA president, on his personal Twitter account. “We have come a long way over the past 15 years, but the last week proves how far we have left to go.”
The Dolphins state the protocol was done correctly and that he was medically cleared to return to play. However, some people say that the eye test should be enough to bar a player from being able to return.
“As someone that’s suffered multiple concussions and played football, I couldn’t even imagine trying to step back on that field with one (concussion),” said Sacred Heart University junior Sam Doughty. “I would be fearful for my life.”
Doughty, an ex-football player, has suffered from three concussions.
“When I suffered my last one, I was not able to leave my dark room four days later, never mind attempt to play football.”
Tagovailoa, who missed Miami’s last two games, plans to return to the field on Oct. 23 as the Dolphins take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.