Was Playing Tua Tagovailoa After Concussion the Right Decision?

There are no simple answers when it comes to player management. There are many layers of decisions from a variety of stakeholders, which includes management, coaching staff, medical professionals, and the players themselves, and not everyone’s going to agree on outcome and best practices. But who should be in charge of final decisions?

On Sunday, September 25, 2022, in a match-up between the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills, Tua Tagovailoa (Tua) took a hit from Bills linebacker, Matt Milano, that caused a concussion. When he stood up, he walked for a short bit then his legs gave out and he almost fell to the ground again. While Tua indicated this was a back-related issue, the Dolphins announced his injury was a head injury.1 After a successful concussion evaluation, Tua was cleared for play. All reports indicate that evaluation protocols were carried out properly. Although further scrutiny is likely probable.

Then just four days later on Thursday, September 29, 2022 in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Tua was sacked by Bangles defensive tackle, Josh Topou, which slung him around and slammed the back of his helmet on the turf. This hit made his arms and fingers flex into a “fencing response” near his face, which is a physical sign of brain injury.2 If it was questionable before this hit occurred, this outcome established that the issue is now serious. Tua departed the game in a stretcher but was discharged from the hospital later that day.3 However, it’s unclear when he’ll return to the field.

In 2020, Tua agreed to a four-year, $30.3 million contract with the Miami Dolphins, which included a $19.6 million signing bonus. The deal of which is fully guaranteed.4 That’s a big financial commitment so the Dolphins definitely want to get some gainful ROI out of the deal, which means playing Tua and winning games.

The number one focus of any responsible team manager should always be the health of the players. Teams don’t exist without players, and sports doesn’t exist without teams so player health should always be of paramount significance. This brings us to concussion protocols.

This is where it gets kind of sticky. Here we have a talented quarterback who gets nailed on Sunday only to be released after medical clearance, then to be nailed again four days later with an even worse outcome. Tua initially identified his issue as a back injury instead of a head injury. Now, it’s quite obvious that tripping after standing up and gripping hands in front of your face are symptoms of head trauma, not back trauma. That said, we could denote that Tua’s issue identification was made with the team’s interest in mind over his own. In short, he just wanted to be there for his team so just said the issue was trivial and back-related. The only problem with this is it poses serious term risk, long or short.

A wrong diagnosis could be career ending. Even though Tua has already made his money, the Dolphins haven’t yet made their ROI so losing Tua would be a huge loss. In essence, this is the problem with players, who aren’t doctors, taking part in their own medical diagnoses. It just creates conjecture and misdiagnoses.

Tua’s opinion shouldn’t have been involved in his own medical diagnosis. Ask him what hurts, sure, but then check everything. He’s a talented athlete, not a board certified physician. Leave the medical stuff up to those qualified to make accurate health status diagnoses. Tua’s own diagnosis may have lead to his issue being mistreated and while it’s unclear if the two injuries although close in frequency were related, excluding player opinion may have prevented the second one. This is where concussion protocols could be revised.

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  1. Tua Tagovailoa concussion investigation: NFL believes Dolphins followed protocol with QB’s injury. www.sportingnews.com ↩︎
  2. NFL claims concussion protocols didn’t fail Tua Tagovailoa on Sunday. That’s hard to believe after Thursday’s scary head injury. sports.yahoo.com ↩︎
  3. Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa discharged from hospital Thursday after suffering concussion vs. Bengals. www.nfl.com ↩︎
  4. Report: Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins Agree to $30.28M Contract with $19.6M Bonus. bleacherreport.com ↩︎

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