The NFL’s concussion record comes under scrutiny after Tagovailoa was hit hard again

A few hours after Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was thrown onto the field so violently that he lay sprained with a brain injury and had to be carried off the field on a gurney, he was discharged from the hospital and flown home with his Team.

Speaking to reporters before his departure, coach Mike McDaniel said it was “an emotional moment” to see his quarterback on the field, but then expressed relief “that he didn’t have anything more serious than a concussion.”

For those who have pushed the NFL to take a more aggressive stance on head injuries, the words fell short of the league’s message that it embraced the issue, especially after a $1 billion settlement with former players with cognitive disabilities from the game Seriously.

“I don’t think this guy gets it,” Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and frequent critic of the league, wrote on Twitter.

“A concussion is a traumatic brain injury, and posture suggests a brainstem injury,” Nowinski said. “It’s pretty high on the list of serious medical consequences of football.”

Tagovailoa was already re-examining the NFL’s problem with head punches and concussions. His injury Thursday in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals was the second time in a week that Tagovailoa appeared to suffer a head injury; After the last one, in a game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday when the coaches helped him to the sidelines, he returned to play 30 minutes later. aggravating former players.

Thursday’s injury provoked more concern.

“To be honest, Tua probably never should have played,” said Emmanuel Acho, a former linebacker turned Fox Sports analyst. “He showed neurological trauma last week, we ignored it, called it a ‘back injury’ and put him back into the game. Now the whole world is watching as he lies helpless on the field. When will player safety come first?”

Speaking on a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Jeff Miller, the league’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, said that “everything indicates” league protocols were followed by the team’s doctors and league-affiliated neurologists at the game . But by then, the NFL players’ union had opened an investigation into the Dolphins’ handling of Tagovailoa’s previous injury. The process can take weeks.

Per league concussion protocols, players who exhibit instability after a goal are scored are evaluated by both the team doctor and an independent neurologist who is employed by the team but is not on staff. Together they decide whether a player can return, with the team doctor having the final say.

The league has reported that concussions are trending down, from 275 in 2015 to 187 in 2021.

However, legal experts have doubted that they are fully documented and as long as the team doctor can make a final decision, the protocols are only as good as the willingness to follow them.

“These actions are no different than when Big Tobacco was telling people for years to put filters on cigarettes and make them safer,” Brad Sohn, an attorney who represents numerous current and former players who use the NFL, told The Concussion Protocols “Having a loophole big enough for a truck to drive through.”

Concussion protocol aside, the NFL has attempted to address head injuries with better helmets and regulations and a marketing campaign that places less emphasis on headshots.

Yet reminders of the game’s inherent violence are constant.

The NFL has become the most-watched league by merchandising brutality, speed and power in game-sized nuggets. The league and its broadcast partners celebrate tough duels throughout games and in endless highlight reels. Gamers have become millionaires because they are willing to risk their bodies to achieve victory.

But after doctors uncovered the ravages of repeated head banging, public opinion has turned. More and more parents are pushing their sons to play football and baseball. Scholastic football programs have shrunk and even been shut down.

Fearing a shrinking pipeline of new players and fans, the NFL has spent hundreds of millions of dollars reassuring nervous parents that the game can be made safer.

However, at the professional level, the risk of serious injury is part of the calculation for the multi-million dollar salaries and potential fame.

As McDaniel put it, “That’s not part of the deal that someone signs up for, even though you know in football it’s possible to have something you have to put on a stretcher.”

The players’ union, like the league, has been at odds as its members depend on the revenue they generate from the league’s wealth, and many players willingly rush back onto the field when their bodies tell them they aren’t should .

“The health and safety of players is at the heart of the union’s mission,” the union said on Twitter Thursday night, adding that it hopes Tagovailoa will have “a full and speedy recovery.”