Head Games (Opinion): A comment on the NFL’s concussion protocols

By: Marin Dremock

On Sunday, Sept. 25, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa took a hard hit by Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano. According to the NFL, the Dolphins announced it as a head injury, and Tagovaiola left the game. He was observed stumbling and struggling to regain his balance as he got up. Tagovaiola later returned to the game.

On Thursday, Sept. 29, just four days later, Tagovailoa left the game against the Cincinnati Bengals with apparent head and neck injuries after a sack by Josh Tupou. The quarterback lay on the turf “with his arms outstretched, contorting his fingers, somewhat like a boxer or fighter after a knockout in what is referred to as a fencing response,” according to the NFL. Tagovailoa was stretchered off the field and admitted to a Cincinnati hospital.

On Sunday, Oct. 8, the NFL and its players’ union agreed to change the league’s concussion protocol “because Tagovailoa’s return to the field was not what was intended by the rules covering the evaluation of brain injuries,” according to the New York Times. The new protocol prohibits players from returning to the game if they exhibit impaired balance and coordination caused by nerve or brain damage.

Allegedly, concussion protocol was followed, and Tagovailoa was cleared to play in both the rest of the Sunday game and all of the Thursday night game.

As you’re reading this timeline of events within the past month in the NFL, you should notice some red flags. It’s shocking that league and team physicians let a player who clearly displayed, what the president of the NFL Players’ Association JC Tretter called, a “no-go” symptom back onto the field.

Even if Tagovailoa had cleared concussion protocol, second-impact syndrome, which is, according to Sports MD, another more severe brain injury that is at risk when athletes return too early to play, is still very possible.

And even if Tagovailoa’s apparent stumbling was attributed to another injury, like the back aggravation that the team physicians claimed it was, an impact event that could very well cause a brain injury still occurred. Plus, he left the game with an announced head injury!

With the baseline concussion protocol that is conducted on NFL sidelines, likely bred for efficiency with special interest in returning the star player to the game, I have little reason to think that the physician team conducted as thorough an evaluation as they could have.

Tua Tagovailoa shouldn’t have had to suffer this nearly career-ending injury at the hands of careless protocol. Thankfully, future situations like this in the NFL are likely to be avoided due to the new protocol.

Sources: New York Times, NFL, NPR, Sports MD

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