By: Abby Altman
A concussion can vary from extremely mild to extremely severe. According to the Mayo Clinic, long term effects after a severe concussion can include: memory problems, trouble concentrating, personality and mood changes, and even depression. These symptoms are just some of the reasons why concussions are so dangerous, especially in a game where head on collisions are so common. The NFL concussion protocol was created in 2011, to try and limit severe head trauma for players in the future.
In week 3 against the Bills, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went down with a hard hit to the head. Tua struggled to stand after the hit, and appeared to have a clear head injury. Tua was adamant, however, that he sustained a back injury.
The NFL Players Union stated that they would be meeting to discuss the NFL concussion protocol after Tagovailoa returned in the second half to finish the game.
On Thursday., against the Bengals in week 4, Tagovailoa went down once again after a hard hit to the head. The Dolphins quarterback was carted off the field with signs of what appeared to be severe head trauma.
“It was a scary moment,” Dolphins Coach Mike McDaniel said. “He was evaluated for a concussion and he’s in the concussion protocol. He was at the hospital. I believe he’s about to get discharged.”
Fans and fellow players all over the league are upset that Tagovailoa was able to return to the game on Sunday, let alone suit up to play on Thursday.
So, what is the NFL concussion protocol? And is it working?
The NFL states that a sports related concussion is a “traumatic brain injury induced by biomechanical forces.”
A hit anywhere that can transmit force to the head can be cause for a player to enter concussion protocol. eg. head, neck, and back.
There are many employees on the field, such as unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants (UNCs) and athletic trainers. These professionals are stationed along the sidelines, and can advise the team physician to call for a concussion evaluation at any sign of head trauma.
If called into the concussion protocol, a player will first be examined on the sidelines, and if signs of a concussion are observed, the player will be moved into the locker room for further evaluation. If brought into the locker room, a player cannot return to the game.
Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins said that his instability last Sunday was caused by a back injury. Tagovailoa passed his concussion test that day and continued to pass further tests in the following days, which is why he was allowed to play on Thursday night.
However, a protocol cannot give all the answers. Watching the injury take place, and the moments that followed, there is some room for common sense to be applied. He had clearly hit his head hard. Tagovailoa had to be held up by his teammates when he could not stand on his own. He even shook his head to attempt to clear it. These are not common signs of a back injury.
Several NFL players tweeted towards the NFL regarding how the situation with Tagovailoa was handled.
Former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III said “The bottom line regarding Tua is LIFE is bigger than football. Teams should always put the person before the player. Health before competitive advantage. Putting Tua out there isn’t just a player safety issue. It’s a quality of life issue.”
NFL hall of famer Shannon Sharpe says he believes that the Dolphins organization is lying about Tua injuring his back, rather than his head. Sharpe also said that he believes Tua should have never been able to take the field on Thursday.
The NFL has built one of the largest fan bases in sports, and part of the fan base is built around celebrating hard tackles and big hits.
This has raised concern that the NFL is more concerned with money and keeping its viewership, rather than the safety of its players.
While the Dolphins staff assured everyone that proper concussion protocol was followed regarding Tua Tagovailoa on Sunday, there are still lots of angry viewers who want an explanation on why Tua was able to play after sustaining such an injury.
After a brain trauma, even the slightest hit to the head can cause even more severe issues if it has not yet healed. By allowing Tagovailoa to suit up on Thursday, the Dolphins organization put their QB into a very dangerous position.
Tagovailoa flew home with the Dolphins following his discharge from the hospital on Thursday and appears to be doing just fine. He will not play in Week 5, but there is no current timeline for his return.
On Saturday, October 1st, 2 days after Tagovailoa exited the game, the Dolphins UNC was fired after making “several mistakes” regarding Tua’s condition.
Since Tagovailoa’s injury, the NFL has released a joint statement with the players union regarding upcoming changes to its protocol.
The NFL and players union discussed the loophole that allows players to stumble and demonstrate gross motor instability to return to the game if a doctor deems the cause to be something other than a head injury. This loophole will be closed from now on, and if a player demonstrates symptoms like these, they will be out for the remainder of the game.
The new NFL protocol has not been finalized, but there are many new pieces to be discussed within the NFL, the players, the coaches, and doctors around the league.
In a league such as the NFL, a player is most likely going to push for playing time, regardless of their personal health. Many coaches will also push for their athletes to play, against doctor’s beliefs. This is why it is so important to have a protocol that has the wellbeing and safety of players in mind, rather than viewership and money for the league.
There are potential issues that can accompany a new protocol. If a player stumbles when getting up after a hard hit, this will likely be deemed as gross motor instability, and cause him to be removed from the game. If a player is, however, unstable due to another injury, the removal from the game could cause issues within organizations.
It is difficult to find the line between necessary safety precautions in the NFL, and places where it’s just not possible to control how safe a game with full on tackling can be.
No matter how airtight the concussion protocol is, judgment calls will still need to be made regarding the safety of each and every NFL player.