Tua Tagovailoa is very fortunate. He is fortunate that he’ll wake up in his own bed Friday morning and not in a Cincinnati hospital.
He’s lucky that (assuming everything he and the Miami Dolphins have said is accurate) the scary concussion he suffered Thursday night was his first of the season, not his second in four days.
He’s fortunate that he was healthy enough to fly home with his teammates early Friday morning.
But luck alone isn’t enough for the Dolphins, not with how the last week has played out.
Miami Dolphins’ handling of Tua Tagovailoa needs scrutiny
Tagovailoa’s brief stay in a Level 1 Trauma Center on Thursday was frightening enough if it was indeed the first brain injury he’s suffered this week.
But large swaths of the nation — including many prominent voices in the media — believe that Tua actually was concussed on Sunday and that he was allowed to return to that game and play Thursday with a brain injury.
There’s significant evidence suggesting the opposite is true and that the Dolphins have been in the right. But the only way the NFL and the Dolphins can counter the significant distrust is with complete and total transparency into the process that resulted in Tagovailoa playing four days after staggering off the field following a blow to the back of his head.
(The Dolphins and Tagovailoa insist that instability was due to a back injury, not a concussion, a stance Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel reiterated during his postgame press conference on Thursday.)
McDaniel’s comments after the game on Thursday were a good start. But they were only a start. McDaniel, facing the first real crisis as Dolphins boss, pushed back stridently against the insinuation that the team returned a player who had suffered a concussion to action.
“I have absolutely zero patience for [that] or ever would put a player in harm’s way,” McDaniel told reporters after the Dolphins’ 27-15 loss to the Bengals. “That’s not what I’m about at all.”
He also said that no outcome of a game would influence him “to be irresponsible” with a player’s health.
McDaniel went through the many benchmarks players suspected of suffering a concussion must clear to be OK’d to play. Tagovailoa met all the criteria, including an examination by an independent doctor this past Sunday.
“For me, as long as I’m coaching here, I’m not going to fudge that whole situation,” McDaniel said. “If there’s any sort of inclination that someone has a concussion, they go into the concussion protocol. People don’t vary or stray.”
NFLPA vows to investigate the handling of Tua’s injury
McDaniel’s words, strong as they might be, aren’t enough. The NFLPA — the union responsible for the health and welfare of players — wants more.
“Player health and safety is at the core of the union’s mission,” the union tweeted during the game. “Our concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery. Our investigation into the potential protocol violation is ongoing.”
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith went a step further, texting Amazon Prime (which broadcast the game) the following: “We insisted on these rules to avoid exactly this scenario. We will pursue every legal option, including making referrals against the doctors to licensing agencies and the team that is obligated to keep our players safe.”
In other words, this is just getting started. The Dolphins should expect to make the doctors who determined Tagovailoa did not suffer a concussion on Sunday available for any and all questions that privacy laws allow.
By now, Miami should be used to external investigations that look into their actions. The NFL just completed one that resulted in the forfeiture of draft picks for illegal tampering.
But those violations only impacted the integrity of the game. What we’re talking about now is far more serious.
Tagovailoa needs to be confident that the doctors who examined him this week made absolutely every effort to keep him safe. And the NFL’s customer base needs to believe that the league’s lessons of past mistakes regarding concussions have not been forgotten.
Nothing short of a complete, thorough, and open look into the Dolphins’ actions over the past week is acceptable.