The biggest concern emerging from Thursday night’s game between the Dolphins and Bengals is whether Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa should have been playing.
As explained by Michael Smith on the Amazon postgame show, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith texted to Andrew Whitworth (a former NFLPA player rep) and Richard Sherman (a member of the NFLPA executive committee) the following message: “We insisted on these rules to avoid exactly this scenario. We will pursue every legal option, including making referrals against the doctors to licensing agencies and the team that is obligated to keep our players safe.”
Amen to all of that.
Here’s the issue, as I explained it both on Football Night in America and throughout the week, on PFT Live and in this outlet. If a player shows “gross motor instability,” he may continue only if the team physician and the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant conclude that the instability was not neurologically caused.
I posed to the league — twice — on Sunday a very simple question. How did the team physician and the UNC conclude that the gross motor instability exhibited by Tua was not neurological? Did they take Tua’s word for it that it was a back injury? Did they carefully study the know-it-when-you-see-it video that the wobbling and wooziness was not the result of a head injury? Did they do something else?
Those questions have yet to be answered. Presumably, they’ll be answered as part of the investigation that was initiated by the NFLPA. They need to be.
It doesn’t matter if Tua cleared every possible cognitive test that they administered. They still were required BY RULE to determine that the gross motor instability did not have a neurological cause.
Absent that conclusion, he wouldn’t have returned to the game. He quite possibly wouldn’t have played tonight.
Even if, as it appears, Tua will be fine, that doesn’t diminish the concern. The goal is to prevent a player who has had one head injury from having another. The consequences can be devastating for the player. They can, frankly, be fatal.
It’s important for anyone who enjoys and/or profits from the game to care about the health and safety of all players, and to be vigilant about ensuring that the rules aimed at protecting the players are honored — even if it means that a player won’t be available to return to a big game, or to play in another big game starting only four days later.
Those are the stakes. Tua managed to avoid a serious outcome. Unless this potential flaw in the protocol is rectified, the next player may not be so fortunate. Or the next one. Or the next one.
Thirteen years ago, quarterback Carson Palmer made waves by warning in a roundtable discussion moderated by Peter King that, inevitably, there will be a fatality in a game. That outcome, obviously, must be avoided at all costs. How the Tua situation is handled by the league and the union will go a long way toward helping ensure that Palmer’s prediction never comes to fruition.