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Home SPORTS Tua Tagovailoa's head injury leaves questions Dolphins need to answer

Tua Tagovailoa’s head injury leaves questions Dolphins need to answer

Early in the second quarter of Thursday night’s game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the miami dolphinsquarterback Tua Tagovailoa dropped into the pocket to throw.

Cincinnati defensive tackle Josh Tupou burst through the Miami defensive line and caught the quarterback, throwing him to the turf for a sack. In the process, Tagovailoa’s helmet bounced off the turf at Paycor Stadium and it immediately became apparent that the quarterback had sustained an injury. Tagovailoa’s hands came up to his face and the pin remained on the turf as his teammates and later medical personnel came to his aid.

Tagovailoa was carried off the field on a stretcher, and the Dolphins announced they would transport him to a nearby hospital for further evaluation. The team’s social media account noted that he was conscious, with full movement in his limbs:

Two hours later, the team reported that Tagovailoa was “expected” to be released from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and would fly back to Miami with the Dolphins:

While that’s good news, Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel and the organization should provide answers in the coming days regarding Tagovailoa playing in Thursday night’s game, for starters. Remember, Tagovailoa suffered an injury during Miami’s game on Sunday against the buffalo billswhere he was tackled to the grass after throwing a pass and, similar to what we saw Thursday night, hit the back of his head on the playing surface at Hard Rock Stadium.

Then, as Tagovailoa got to his feet, he stumbled back onto the grass:

Tagovailoa was immediately pulled from the game, with the team initially reporting that he had a head injury and that returning was questionable:

But then, reports surfaced that Tagovailoa was actually dealing with a back injury, passed concussion protocols, and would return to the game:

Tagovailoa actually returned to the game, leading the Dolphins to a victory over the Bills. After the match, he appeared on the podium and addressed the situation, pointing to a back injury as the reason he was visibly shaken on the field:

And the word of his coach was that Tagovailoa played with “a backache”:

Under the terms of the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, when a player exhibits “gross motor instability,” then the player may not return to the game if “a team physician, in consultation with the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant” determines that he has a neurological cause.

In Tagovailoa’s case, doctors determined that her instability was not caused by a head injury:

In addition, an NFL spokesman declared after the game that the quarterback “has undergone an examination by the Dolphins’ team physician and an independent neurologist and has been cleared to return.”

However, the NFLPA was not convinced. Shortly after the game, the NFLPA stated that it would launch an investigation into how Tagovailoa’s injury was handled. Under the CBA, the NFLPA, the NFL Board of Directors or any player has the right to file a complaint about an alleged breach of concussion protocol. Said complaints will be investigated and resolved by the union and the board of directors:

The status of that complaint? It’s still in the works, and it was still in the works when Tagovailoa traveled to Cincinnati with the team, and it was still in the works when Tagovailoa took the field Thursday night, just days after their game against the Bills.

But according to a report by Mark Maske of The Washington Post, the league believes protocols were followed:

Following Tagovailoa’s injury on Thursday night, the NFLPA stated that their concerns center on Tagovailoa and his health, and that their investigation into the possible “protocol violation” is ongoing:

The timeline calls into question the current process under the CBA. According to the CBA, investigators you can interview those involved parties and any:

…is reasonably believed to be in possession of information relevant to the inquiry (including players, league employees, club employees and members of the medical staff of the club involved) and, at the request of any representative, it will be provided as soon as possible. reasonably possible, with a copy of all game movies, other recorded evidence, and any other documentation relevant to the investigation of the allegation.

The investigators must then complete their investigation and produce a report of their findings within two weeks.

Following this, the NFLPA Executive Director will meet with the league’s Assistant General Counsel to determine if a violation did occur and/or what the appropriate disciplinary action should be. If they cannot agree on whether a violation occurred or what the disciplinary action should be if they find a violation occurred, then the matter is referred to an impartial arbitrator. In that scenario, the referee will hold a hearing no later than 30 days after the referral, and within a week after the hearing closes, he will submit a written report to the NFL.

But in the meantime, the player can still dress up and play.

Like Tagovailoa did on Thursday night.

Now, perhaps all protocols were followed in the Tagovailoa case, and as Maske’s initial report indicates, the league at this point believes the Dolphins followed proper procedures last Sunday in Miami.

But allowing Tagovailoa to take the field Thursday night, just days after that injury and while the matter was under investigation to determine whether concussion protocols were indeed followed, certainly seems misguided in hindsight.

For some, however, hindsight was not necessary.

Chris Nowinski is a behavioral neuroscientist and former professional wrestler. After his days in the ring, he earned his Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience from Boston University. Nowinski also founded the Concussion Legacy Foundation and has dedicated his career to a better understanding of head injury and traumatic brain injury in sports.

Hours before Tagovailoa took the field, Nowinski posted this on social media:

That last sentence turns one’s stomach this Friday morning.

Soccer is a dangerous game, a collision sport where injuries can and will happen. But as our understanding of head injuries grows by the day, the processes in place to protect players on the field must grow and adjust accordingly. Perhaps the Dolphins did follow all elements of the current concussion protocol. But it seems that if there is enough concern to launch an investigation into how a player’s head injury was handled and assessed, then more safety measures should be put in place before a player returns to the field.

Currently, players who go through the protocol are required to have a follow-up evaluation the next day, but it stops there:

Perhaps more follow-up testing should be required, especially in cases where an investigation has been started before they return to the field.

Sometimes teams need to step in and protect a player from himself. Soccer players are taught from an early age that “the best skill is availability.” They are taught the difference between “being hurt and being hurt.” They learn to play through pain and injury to keep their jobs.

Rich Ohrnberger, former NFL offensive lineman, offered this idea on suffering a concussion when Andrew Luck retired from the NFL:

On Thursday night, Ohrnberger took to social media to share how the new england patriots handled their conversation during the 2011 season:

In his words, the Patriots saved him from himself.

Should Tagovailoa have also saved himself? Maybe, and maybe the Dolphins tried. Maybe not. But those are just some of the questions the team must answer in the wake of what we all saw on Sunday and Thursday nights.


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