Tua Tagovailoa Injury Sparks Change in NFL Concussion Protocol 

By: John Welch and Zach Kershaw 

The National Football League (NFL) has been under fire recently for its concussion protocol procedures following the serious injury of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. 

 The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), has launched an investigation regarding the handling of Tagovailoa’s injury. 

Tagovailoa suffered what appeared to be a serious head injury during Miami’s week three contest against the Buffalo Bills. However, he was still cleared to play against the Cincinnati Bengals just four days later on Thursday Night Football. During the contest, Tagovailoa suffered yet another head injury, this time much more serious, which required him to be carried off the field in a stretcher.  

Since then, the league has been under heavy scrutiny for its policies which allowed Tagovailoa to be cleared to play despite showing clear signs of a concussion following his injury in Miami’s contest against the Buffalo Bills.  

On Sept. 25, in the game against their division rival, Tagovailoa was shoved to the ground by Bills linebacker Matt Milano. On the way down, Tagovailoa appeared to hit his head, but nothing serious was thought of the tackle until he got to his feet.  

Upon standing up, Tagovailoa did not appear to be all there. After taking just a few steps forward, he stumbled to the ground with his head shaking back and forth. As he tried to reorient himself, his teammates Terron Armstead and Liam Eichenberg had to physically hold him up, in fear of their quarterback collapsing yet again. 

Following this play, Tagovailoa was officially removed from the game and taken to the locker room. At first, the injury report stated that Tagovailoa had suffered a head injury, but that was soon revised to being a back injury. 

“He showed some instability in his motor movement,” said Kim Morris, an associate professor of health and human performance at UT. 

Many critics had doubted the legitimacy of the claim that it was a back injury, especially considering the motor stability of Tagovailoa following the play. With a short week and upcoming primetime game on Thursday Night Football against the reigning AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals, the league wondered if the Miami quarterback would be cleared.  

“We don’t have a definitive way to test for a concussion. What we have is the top standard,” said Morris. “We have developed, with research, they have developed tools. Right now, the most commonly used tool is called SCAT5.” 

Doctors use what is known as SCAT5 to assess concussion symptoms in athletes. SCAT5 is an acronym for Sport Concussion Assessment Tool fifth edition.

Ultimately, Tagovailoa was given the green light by Dolphin’s medical personnel to play in Thursday night’s matchup against Cincinnati.  

Around five hours before kickoff, Christopher Nowinski, a neuroscientist and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and co-founder of the Boston University CTE Center, shared his thoughts on Tagovailoa being allowed to play despite showing clear signs of a concussion during Miami’s previous game against Buffalo.  

“If Tua [Tagovailoa] takes the field tonight, it’s a massive step back for concussion care in the NFL,” said Nowinski. “If he has a second concussion that destroys his season or career, everyone involved will be sued and lose their jobs, coaches included. We all saw it. Even they must know this isn’t right.” 

During the first half, Tagovailoa was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou. On his way down, his head violently collided with the ground. 

Visibly, Tagovailoa was motionless on the field and his fingers seemingly frozen.  

“We call that posturing. When I saw that replay, I felt like it was a type of posturing. And that means something is going on, something is not right.” said Morris.  

Tagovailoa was stretchered off the field and transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, a level one trauma center, where he received medical treatment and care. 

After being discharged from the medical center, Tagovailoa was placed into the NFL’s concussion protocol. Moving forward, the Dolphins plan to exercise an abundance of caution with their franchise quarterback.  

The NFL and the NFLPA agree that the Tagovailoa situation will be the catalyst for modifications in the concussion protocol to avoid similar scenarios. With no clear-cut way to identify concussions, physicians and teams must go above and beyond to protect their players and their health.  

When the NFL’s updated concussion protocol is released, adjustments will be put into place so that a player may not return to games after exhibiting signs consistent with concussions, so the players know the league has their backs when it comes to handling these types of issues.  

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