The NFLPA on Saturday fired the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant that cleared Tua Tagovailoa to return to play last Sunday — further escalating the biggest controversy of this young NFL season and potentially setting up a dispute between the union and the Miami Dolphins.
What to make of NFLPA’s decision to fire the doctor who evaluated Tua Tagovailoa
Both during and following Week 3’s matchup with the Buffalo Bills, Tagovailoa was cleared by both team and independent doctors, a decision that has come under great scrutiny after Tua’s scary head injury in Thursday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Tagovailoa was immobilized and rushed to UC Health — a Level 1 Trauma Center — after the back of his head slammed into the ground. The team confirmed that he suffered a concussion.
But the team also insists it was just his first concussion of the season. Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel doubled and tripled down on that assertion Friday, saying the following:
“The whole process for what happened on the Bills game was he was evaluated for a head injury immediately. That’s what we brought him into the tent for or brought him inside for. He was evaluated and then cleared by several layers of medical professionals, who – I don’t pretend to be one – but those people, the collection of them, cleared him of any head injury whatsoever. He had a back and ankle issue.
“So in terms of deciding whether or not to play a guy on a Thursday night game, I was concerned about his lower back and his ankle, and putting him in harm’s way. I have 100% conviction in our process regarding our players. This is a player-friendly organization that I make it very clear from the onset that my job as a coach is here for the players. I take that very serious and no one else in the building strays from that.
“So when I am talking about deciding whether or not to play, the only thing that would keep me from playing him would be something going against medical advice that would be just completely abstract on top of all that. I had no worries whatsoever. I’m in steady communication with this guy day in and day out. We’re talking about high-level football conversations about progressions and defenses and recalling stuff from two weeks previous and then him having to reiterate a 15-word play call. All things, absolutely no signs.
“There was no medical indication, from all resources, that there was anything regarding the head. If there would have been, of course. If there would have been anything lingering with his head, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I prematurely put someone out there and put them in harm’s way. This is a relationship that I have with this human being. I take that serious. I wouldn’t have put him out there if there was any inclination given to me whatsoever that he was endangering himself from that previous game.”
The Union’s report into handling of Tua could be explosive
Apologies for the very long quote, but it’s important that the team’s exact position goes on the record. Because if the NFLPA report on how the Tagovailoa situation was handled determines that the team’s process was wrong, it could set up a dispute between the team and the union.
We don’t yet know what the union will find. But Saturday’s firing — which is their prerogative — wasn’t a great sign for the NFL or the Dolphins.
CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones reported that the union’s decision to fire the UNC came after the NFLPA uncovered “several mistakes” made by the doctor during an interview with the medical professional Friday. The report did not specify what mistakes were made.
It’s relatively unusual for someone to be fired before an investigation is complete, but it was clear from President J.C. Tretter’s comments Friday that the union did not believe the situation was handled properly.
“We are all outraged by what we have seen the last several days and scared for the safety of one of our brothers,” Tretter wrote. “What everyone saw both Sunday and last night were ‘no-go; symptoms within our concussion protocols. The protocols exist to protect the player, and that is why we initiated an investigation.
“Our job as the NFLPA is to take every possible measure to get the facts and hold those responsible accountable. We need to figure out how and why the decisions were made last Sunday to allow a player with a ‘no-go’ symptom back on the field.
“Until we have an objective and validated method of diagnosing brain injury, we have to do everything possible, including amending the protocols, to further reduce the potential of human error. A failure in medical judgment is a failure of the protocols when it comes to the well-being of our players.
“We have come a long way over the past 15 years but the last week proves how far we have left to go.”
On Saturday evening, the NFL and NFLPA released a joint statement.
“The joint NFL-NFLPA investigation into the application of the Concussion Protocol involving Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa remains ongoing. Therefore, we have not made any conclusions about medical errors or protocol violations.
The NFL and NFLPA agree that modifications to the Concussion Protocol are needed to enhance player safety. The NFLPA’s Mackey-White Health & Safety Committee and the NFL’s Head Neck and Spine Committee have already begun conversations around the use of the term “Gross Motor Instability,” and we anticipate changes to the protocol being made in the coming days based on what has been learned thus far in the review process.
The NFL and NFLPA share a strong appreciation for the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants who contribute their time and expertise to our game solely to advance player safety. The program has made our game safer for the athletes who play it for the past twelve seasons.”
The dispute will likely come down to the cause of Tagaovailoa’s instability last Sunday. The Dolphins insist it was due to a back injury (which, if true, would have been fine for him to return). The union seems to have a different view.
Following Week 4’s matchup vs. the Bengals, Tagovailoa is in the concussion protocol. There is no known timeline for his return.