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NFL’s Concussion Protocol Scrutinized After Dolphins QB Injured


Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was taken from the field on a stretcher after suffering a head injury. | Image by Getty Images

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Less than 48 hours after Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was taken from the field on a stretcher after suffering a head injury, the National Football League and the NFL Players Association announced that immediate changes would be coming to the language regarding concussion protocols.

Primarily, the NFL and NFLPA are looking to close a loophole that allows players who display signs of a concussion to return to the field if another ailment could be responsible.

The issue arose during Week 3 action, with the Dolphins in a heated contest against the Buffalo Bills. Bills linebacker Matt Milano shoved Tagovailoa after the QB had released the ball, drawing a ‘roughing the passer’ penalty.

Tagovailoa hit the ground hard and appeared to strike his head on the turf. He got up slowly, shaking his head, then stumbled to a knee while returning to the huddle. He was taken to the locker room medical facility for evaluation but returned in the second half of the game. The Dolphins went on to win 21-19.

The particular behavior that will be evaluated and updated by the NFL and NFLPA will change how what is known as “gross motor instability” is evaluated. That evaluation is currently a judgment call between the team doctor, an onsite neurologist, and the player, and in most circumstances results in an automatic disqualification.

Currently, the exact language of changes has not been revealed, but officials confirmed Saturday that alterations would be coming.

However, the existing protocol states that players showing signs of instability can return to play when the team doctor and a consultant determine that the cause of the instability is non-neurological.

The Dolphins staff determined that Tagovailoa suffered a lower back injury that caused him to stumble after the Week 3 hit and that the player passed a concussion test after the hit.

On Thursday, Tagovailoa started at quarterback for the Dolphins’ Week 4 match with the Cincinnati Bengals. Trailing 7-6 in the second quarter, Tagovailoa took hits on two consecutive plays. The second saw defensive end Josh Tupou slam the quarterback to the ground on a sack.

Tagovailoa again struck his head and his fingers appeared to contort, a sign of a serious head injury. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and is now being treated for a concussion.

After the two games, the NFLPA terminated the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who attended to Tagovailoa in the Week 3 injury immediately upon beginning the investigation, but the organization has not determined if any rules were violated.

The Dolphins QB has been ruled out for Week 5 but was released from the hospital hours after the Thursday night game.

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