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The NFL’s concussion protocol problem


Editor’s Note: NFLPA agrees to changes to the concussion protocol prior to Week 5; urges the NFL to do the same.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was carted off the field during the Dolphins vs. Cincinatti Bengals game Thursday, Sept. 29. Tagovailoa was later taken to a local hospital with a head and neck injury.  

In 2011, the National Football League put together a board of independent directors of NFL-affiliated physicians and scientists, including a few advisors of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA).  

The board put together an NFL game day concussion diagnosis and management protocol, it is reviewed each year to ensure the players’ safety. The NFL has a six-step process to see if the player is a “no-go,” a video review of the play, a review of concussion signs and symptoms, an inquiry regarding the history of the event, all Maddocks questions and a focused neurological exam.  

The NFL is currently facing backlash for its concussion protocols because of a recent injury Tagovailoa suffered four days before the game against the Bengals.  

During the game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Tagovailoa went down after a hit from the Bills defense which caused Tagovailoa to hit his head on the field.When he got up to walk, he began to stumble. 

The Dolphins medical staff took Tagovailoa into the locker room to evaluate him for a concussion, but he came back after halftime to finish the game. The Dolphins organization later said it was a back injury and that Tagovailoa was cleared by the medical team to re-enter the game. 

Four days later, the Dolphins were playing against the Bengals and Tagovailoa took a big hit once again, but this time he remained on the field as medical professionals approached him. Tagovailoa was placed on a stretcher and taken to a hospital.  


NFL Players Association, Tweeted Statement after Thursday night’s game

Since Tagovailoa’s hit brought many questions, the NFLPA is currently investigating the situation to determine if Tagovailoa was examined thoroughly for a concussion in Sunday’s game against the Bills. 

One thing that is on everyone’s mind is, why did the Dolphins allow Tagovailoa to re-enter the game on Sunday when he noticeably stumbled as he walked to the huddle?   

According to ESPN, the NFL concussion protocol refers to that kind of stumble as “gross motor instability.” The Dolphins explained that the reason for the stumble was due to the back injury, but after Tagovailoa took the hit not once was he grabbing his back. When you go and watch the videos you can see that Tagovailoa hit his head on the field in almost the same fashion. 

On the NFL’s Player Health and Safety website, they show an in-depth description of how they conduct concussion protocols. 

There are also various individuals watching the game from different perspectives to examine the plays where injuries occur; someone had to have seen the play where Tagovailoa hit his head. 

Thankfully Tagovailoa was released from the hospital in Cincinnati and was able to travel back with the team. According to ESPN, Tagovailoa has undergone testing that showed no structural damage to his head or neck area; he was alert and has feeling in all his extremities. 

According to ESPN, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant that was involved in clearing Tagovailoa during Sunday’s game has been fired as many sources are saying that he has made several mistakes.  

The NFL and the NFLPA have agreed to make modifications to the current concussion protocols in order to enhance player safety. The agreement in modifying the current protocols is subject to formal approval and could take effect in week five of the NFL season.  

The NFL and the NFLPA released a joint statement Saturday, Oct. 1: 

“The NFL and the NFLPA agree that 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 joint statement said. 

“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. This program has made our game safer for the athletes who play it for the past twelve seasons.” 

Many are glad to hear that Tagovailoa is alert. He is expected to receive an MRI and is currently in concussion protocol.  

Katrina Villarreal is a staff reporter and may be reached at [email protected]. 

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About the Contributor
Katrina Villarreal, Multimedia Editor
Katrina Villarreal is senior multimedia journalism major with a minor in theatre at UTEP. She is going into her second year at The Prospector and is currently the Multimedia Editor. Once she graduates, she plans on becoming a sideline reporter for the NFL or ESPN.  
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The NFL’s concussion protocol problem