Changes undoubtedly will be made to the NFL’s concussion policies and protocols after last night’s incident involving Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It’s possible that, ultimately, there will be an overreaction. And that’s fine; that would be far better than an underreaction.
The most immediate reaction should be simple, and immediate. The loophole regarding “gross motor instability” should be closed.
Under the current protocol, a player who demonstrates “gross motor instability” must be evaluated for a concussion. He can, however, return to play if the team physician and the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant conclude that the gross motor instability did not have a neurological cause.
Regardless of why that loophole ever existed (perhaps it’s as simple as allowing for the possibility that the player who stumbled simply tripped), it must be closed. Or at a minimum the language must change to something like this: “gross motor instability that has no clear and obvious alternative cause, such as tripping, pushing, shoving, slipping.”
It would be better to just close the loophole, and to trust the team physician and the UNC to know gross motor instability when they see it. Because we all knew it when we saw it. On Sunday, we saw it and we knew it. Tua was wobbly and woozy because his head had hit the ground. He should have been, in the language of the protocol, a “no go.”
For the fencing posture, which we saw last night after Tua’s head hit the ground, the player cannot return. That same standard should apply to gross motor instability. There should be no loophole or exception, because the reality is that, when such loopholes or exceptions exist, the team physicians and/or the UNCs seem to always find a way to exploit them.