Sports editor Caspian Denton reports on Tagovailoa’s injury and the public dispute on whether he should have been playing in week four.
On Sept. 29, the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals started the fourth week of the NFL season. The Bengals took the win by outscoring the Dolphins 27-15. However, the Bengals’ win was shadowed by Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s severe injury. With less than six minutes left in the second quarter, Tagovailoa was sacked by Bengals’ defensive tackle Josh Tupou. The tackle came with extreme force, resulting in Tagovailoa’s head harshly hitting the ground. His movement was limited after the tackle, only being able to turn on his back. This also included the worrisome action of Tagovailoa’s fingers clenching up and freezing in front of his face. The director of Boston University’s CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) Center, Dr. Ann McKee, publicly commented on the play stating this is “a clear sign of a brain injury with brainstem dysfunction.” This is also known as a fencing response, which is an involuntary neurological response to a significant concussion. After receiving medical assistance shortly after the hit, Tagovailoa was placed on a stretcher and escorted to a hospital within three minutes.
This injury became controversial for multiple reasons. The main one is that Tagovailoa had experienced a head injury four days before during a play against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 25. It was tied 14-14 with less than three minutes remaining in the half. Tagovailoa was hoping to make some big plays in the remaining time to take the lead. It was third-and-three3 on the Dolphins’ 21-yard line. The play resulted in Tagovailoa scrambling to find a receiver while experiencing pressure from the defense. He eventually locates Jaylen Waddle who completes the pass and gets the first down. Shortly after Tagovailoa threw the ball, however, linebacker Matt Milano knocked him to the ground. Tagovailoa is seen hitting the ground hard, causing his back and head to take most of the impact. This is followed by him standing up, lacking full balance. He attempts to run to the line of scrimmage but stumbles and eventually falls to the ground. Tagovailoa quickly gets up and continues to stumble until two of his teammates stop him from running and hold him in place. Medical assistance rushes to him while he is seen holding his head. Tagovailoa was able to walk to the locker room himself to be checked out. The injury was originally labeled as head-related by the Dolphins after the hit, but then it was changed to a back injury being the result of his lack of balance. He was said to have been fully cleared to play after being checked for a concussion and returned at the start of the third quarter.
Due to the outcome of Tagovailoa’s more critical injury in the Bengals game, it is speculated that proper protocol did not take place and he should not have been playing four days after the initial injury. A few days following the game, the NFL Player’s Association fired a doctor involved in clearing Tagovailoa of a concussion during the Bills game. NFLPA found that the doctor had made “several mistakes” in their evaluation. Both the NFL and NFLPA have stated the protocols for concussion checks are being reviewed.
Once Tagovailoa made it to a hospital after exiting the Bengals game he was diagnosed with a concussion. According to ESPN, he “underwent testing, which showed no structural damage to the head or neck area.” On Sept. 30 Tagovailoa included in his most recent tweet, “I’m feeling much better and focused on recovering so I can get back on the field.”
Regardless, events like this continue to raise the issue of concussions and head injuries in the sport of football and whether the proper precautions are being taken, so players are not exploited.