Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was stretchered off with a concussion during his team’s defeat to Cincinnati on Thursday, sparking criticism over the decision to let the Dolphins star play just days after he had been evaluated for a head injury.
Tagovailoa was carried off the field after being sacked heavily in the second quarter in Cincinnati, his head slamming violently into the turf after a tackle from the Bengals’ Josh Tupou.
Replays of the incident showed Tagovailoa’s fingers contorted into an unnatural position, a symptom known as a “fencing response” that is associated with head injuries.
The 24-year-old was kept on the field for around 10 minutes before being taken away on a stretcher as concerned Dolphins staff gathered around midfield.
He was subsequently taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for evaluation for head and neck injuries.
The Dolphins later said in a brief statement that Tagovailoa was “conscious and has movement in all his extremities.”
He was discharged from hospital and was due to travel back to Florida with his teammates.
The incident once again drew attention to the NFL’s record of dealing with concussion and head injuries.
On Sunday, Tagovailoa left the field during the Dolphins’ victory over the Buffalo Bills after suffering a heavy hit in the first quarter.
Tagovailoa appeared to be dazed and unsteady on his feet following that incident and was subsequently evaluated for a concussion.
‘A scary moment’
He was allowed to return to the game, however, after Dolphins coaching staff attributed his unsteadiness to a lower back injury.
The verdict on Tagovailoa’s injury on Sunday was greeted with scepticism by many commentators, however, while the NFL Players Association said it was initiating an investigation into the incident.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel admitted on Thursday that Tagovailoa’s latest injury had been a “scary moment”.
“That is not part of the deal that anyone signs up for even though you know it’s a possibility in football, to have someone taken off on a stretcher,” McDaniel said after the Dolphins’ 27-15 loss.
“All of his teammates and myself were very concerned.”
McDaniel said he was certain Tagovailoa had been concussed after speaking with the stricken quarterback on the field.
“It was very clear to me from the onset, that I knew he had a concussion,” McDaniel said. “He was asking for me, and when I saw him I could just tell he wasn’t the same guy that I’m used to seeing.”
McDaniel denied that the Dolphins had taken a risk with Tagovailoa’s welfare by allowing him to play after his injury last weekend.
“Absolutely not,” McDaniel said. “I do not have any, like absolutely zero, patience for, or will ever put a player in a position to be in harm’s way.
“That is not what I’m about at all, and no outcome of a game would ever influence me being irresponsible as the head coach of a football team.”
A step backwards
But several current and former players as well as safety campaigners condemned the decision to allow the quarterback to play on Thursday.
Chris Nowinski, the chief executive of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a non-profit which works to provide support to athletes, veterans and others affected by concussions, had warned against Tagovailoa playing.
“If Tua takes the field tonight, it’s a massive step back for #concussion care in the NFL,” Nowinski wrote on Twitter before the game.
“If he has a 2nd concussion that destroys his season or career, everyone involved will be sued & should lose their jobs, coaches included.”
Following Tagovailoa’s injury against the Bengals, Nowinski tweeted: “I predicted this and I hate that I am right. Two concussions in five days can kill someone.”
Former NFL player-turned-media pundit Shannon Sharpe also said Tagovailoa should not have been playing.
“Sometimes players need protecting from themselves,” the former Denver Broncos tight end said on Twitter. “Dolphins failed Tua.”
Former Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III added: “Teams should always put the person before the player. Health before competitive advantage.
“Putting Tua out there isn’t just a player safety issue. It’s a quality of life issue.”
The NFL has faced intense scrutiny over the past decade concerning the issue of concussions and head trauma.
In 2015, the league agreed to a $1 billion settlement to resolve thousands of lawsuits by former players suffering from neurological problems.
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