Outrage is high after Tua Tagovailoa of the Dolphins was lost due to an ugly concussion before Miami lost to the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football — but it probably won’t end up costing the NFL a thing.
Slammed to the ground by 340-pound Josh Tupou of the Bengals with about six minutes left in the first half, Tagovailoa remained on the turf with his hands frozen in front of his face in a position known as the “fencing response.” The position occurs when “a person experiences an impact that’s strong enough to cause traumatic brain injury, such as a concussion,” per Healthline.com.
Watching Tagovailoa, who remained down on the turf for more than seven minutes before being loaded onto a backboard and removed from the field into an awaiting ambulance, it was fairly obvious something was very, very wrong — the same way it was on Sunday after he was hit late by Buffalo linebacker Matt Milano.
Following that hit from Milano, who was flagged for roughing the passer, Tagovailoa went to the ground and clearly put his hands to his head after hitting the back of it on the turf. Unlike Thursday night, Tagovailoa was able to get up, but clearly appeared disoriented and needed help staying upright.
After suffering what the team initially said was a head injury and being pulled from the game, Tagovailoa was allowed to back in the game after halftime and played the rest of the way. For that to have happened, the 24-year-old was allegedly cleared by a team physician and the sideline UNC (unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant). Tagovailoa, who is up for a contract extension following this season and was playing well at the time, ostensibly also wanted to go back in the game despite what happened.
That decision to clear Tagovailoa, who was able to fly home with the team and will have an MRI today, prompted a joint review by the NFL and NFL Players Association which, as of Wednesday, indicated concussion protocols had been followed. “Every indication from our perspective is that it was,” NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller said of doctors following concussion protocol on Sunday. “I know the player, the coach and others have spoken to this. And we are engaged in that review now. So we’ll come back with a formal answer to that question.”
Based on what happened on Thursday, that review, which is supposed to be finished within a week or two, may come back with a different result. “Player health and safety is at the core of the union’s mission,” the NFLPA tweeted Thursday. “Our concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery. Our investigation into the potential protocol violation is ongoing.”
In a text message to members of Amazon’s TNF broadcast crew, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith took it a step further. “We insisted on these rules to avoid exactly this scenario,” he wrote, per ProFootballTalk. “We will pursue every legal option, including making referrals against the doctors to licensing agencies and the team that is obligated to keep our players safe.”
That’s all well and good, but the reality is that if the NFL is responsible for investigating if the NFL handled the situation properly, even if the NFLPA has a say in the matter, the league is not going to find itself guilty of any real wrongdoing and no substantial changes to make players safer will really be made.
Is it possible that the league will fine the Dolphins, again, and that a team doctor could get suspended or fired? Of course. Might there be a slight change in the league’s concussion protocols that will make it more difficult for a player who appears to be concussed to get back on the field? Sure. But will all the outrage that is being felt today toward America’s most popular and powerful sports league and a system that allowed Tagovailoa to suffer two apparent concussions in five days with potentially grave consequences be satiated with any actual justice? Not F-ing Likely. NFL.