Tua Tagovailoa and the Problem of the NFL Concussion Protocol


Andrew Schivins, Writer

On Sunday afternoon, on September 25, the Miami Dolphins played the Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins won the game in the late stages of the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins’ starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a head injury. Tua got shoved to the ground by Buffalo linebacker Matt Milano. Tua did not look very good after the tackle. After he got up to his feet, he was stumbling around. According to the NFL Concussion Protocol, Tua had to be evaluated in the locker room to check if he had symptoms of a concussion. Tua said that the stumble that occurred was because of his back injury that he got earlier in the game. Also, Tua and his doctor declared that he passed the evaluation test, letting him play the rest of the game. The doctor did not examine Tua’s back during the concussion examination. 


For those of you who don’t know what concussions are, they are traumatic blows to the head or a hit to your body that makes the brain move fisciously back and forth. The brain then bounces around or it can twist around the skull, damaging brain cells. Concussions can last a few days or up to a couple months depending on how serious the injury is. They are not  usually a life threatening injury, but the effects of the injury can be serious. The most well-known symptoms of a concussion are headaches, ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and blurred vision. Doctors measure concussions based on symptoms. There are 5 grades of a concussion, each getting more severe. Grade 0 of a concussion is a headache and hard to concentrate, while Grade 4 is a loss of consciousness for more than a minute. You should call your doctor if you receive a concussion.


Fast forward a couple days to September 29th. The Dolphins were playing the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football. After not even two quarters of play, Bengals defensive lineman, Josh Tupou, tackled Tua roughly, sending him to the ground. Tua’s head and neck  snapped back as he landed on the ground. All of his joints were rigid and his fingers were in a fencing position. His fingers locking was a neurological response to the head and neck injury. The Dolphins staff quickly signaled the arena’s ambulance to come to Tua. The people in the ambulance picked Tua up on a stretcher.


Tua was taken to a nearby hospital. It was ruled that he had a concussion and the doctors discharged him from the hospital on September 30. He was able to fly home with his team. The Dolphins agreed that Tua would be out for the week 5 game against the Jets on Sunday. There is no timetable of when he is going to return to the lineup. He is still on the concussion protocol. The evaluation consultant doctor that first evaluated Tua was fired. Sources state the doctor made a couple mistakes while evaluating Tua at halftime of the Bills vs. Dolphins game. Fans and others believe if he had rested, the second injury wouldn’t have happened. 


The NFL Concussion Protocol is used to review players and to ensure if they are getting the right treatment for concussions, and to know the most up-to-date information on the diagnosis of the concussion and when the player received the injury. The protocol allowed Tua to continue to play in the game. The NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) and the NFL are going to undergo an investigation for how Tua’s concussion evaluation was handled and how it should have been handled.


After the investigation, the NFL and the NFLPA are going to change the protocol. They added the term “ataxia” to the protocol. Ataxia is the abnormal balance, coordination, or slurred speech that is from neurological injury. If a player experiences ataxia, they would not be allowed to return to the game. If this new protocol was added before Tua’s injury, none of this would have ever happened. He would be out of the game at halftime of the game in Miami against the Bills.


Tua’s injury was a flaw in the NFL Concussion Protocol. Let’s all hope he 100% recovers from this injury and gets to play a football game in the coming weeks.