Controversy hovered over Tua Tagovailoa even taking the field Thursday night. It grew exponentially louder just a few hours later.
Tagovailoa was stretchered off the field near the end of the first half of the Dolphins’ “Thursday Night Football” matchup with the Bengals with head and neck injuries. He was sacked by Josh Tupou, and his head forcefully slammed against the ground as he was brought down. After the hit, his fingers could be seen crooked as he remained on the ground, which broadcasters Kirk Herbstreit and Al Michael said is likely a result of neurological shock.
Just four days ago against the Bills, Tagovailoa similarly slammed his head on the ground after a hit. He tried to get up and remain in the game, but collapsed after taking a few steps and was helped off the field. He returned and helped lead the Dolphins’ to a comeback win, but many were skeptical to how he was allowed back in the game, particularly after everyone saw him collapse.
The Dolphins claimed Tagovailoa passed the NFL’s concussion protocols after the Week 3 hit, which are conducted by an independent third party and includes both physical and phycological tests. In addition, despite the team initially ruling him questionable to return with a head injury, the team and Tagovailoa announced after the game that it was indeed his back that forced him to collapse on the field.
Part of the league’s protocols that would result in a “no-go” for a return to the field include gross motor instability. The Dolphins and the league’s independent third party ruled that Tagovailoa’s gross motor instability — his collapsing on the field — was a result of his back.
Immediately after that game, on Sunday, the NFL Players Association launched an investigation into the processes that allowed him to return. After Tagovailoa exited Thursday night’s game, the NFLPA again expressed their ongoing investigation into Tagovailoa’s injury, and subsequent clearance, from Sunday’s game.
“Player health and safety is at the core of the union’s mission,” the NFLPA tweeted Thursday night. “Our concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery. Our investigation into the potential protocol violation is ongoing.”
On a short week, Tagovailoa was questionable to play Thursday against the Bengals, and there was skepticism that he should even be allowed to take the field.
Before kickoff, Ph.D. Chris Nowinski, CEO of Concussion Legacy Foundation, tweeted “If Tua takes the field tonight, it’s a massive step back for #concussion care in the NFL. If he has a 2nd concussion that destroys his season or career, everyone involved will be sued & should lose their jobs, coaches included. We all saw it, even they must know this isn’t right.”
With another scary injury, the microscope on the Dolphins and their decision making has only intensified.
The NFL Players Association retweeted multiple players sending their regards to Tagovailoa.