Investigation into Tua Tagovailoa’s return may take 1-2 weeks

USA Today Sports

The NFL Players Association has exercised its prerogative to request an investigation into the events that led to Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa rejoining Sunday’s game against the Bills despite exhibiting gross motor instability after his helmet hit the ground.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the investigation — conducted jointly by the league and the NFLPA — will involve a review of the relevant film, along with discussions with Tagovailoa, the team physician, the unaffiliated neurotrauma counselor and other relevant individuals. The investigation is expected to take one to two weeks.

The question then becomes whether the league and union will agree whether or not the concussion protocol was followed correctly. In the case of gross motor instability, the player can only be made ready to play if the team doctor and the UNC conclude that the instability has no neurological cause.

How did that happen in this case? Did they just take Tua at his word that his unsteadiness was the result of an unreported back injury he sustained earlier in the match? Did they do anything to prove the instability wasn’t the result of a head injury?

It was clear that he was allowed to return. But whether he showed signs of impairment on examination in the locker room is a different question than whether or not his gross motor instability had a neurological cause.

If a standoff develops over whether the concussion protocol has been followed, the union can file a complaint. The matter would be resolved through arbitration. However, the NFL and NFLPA have always agreed on whether or not to follow the concussion protocol. In the past, fines have been imposed on the team. One or more UNCs have been retired. Changes to the protocol have been made to address and fill potential gaps.

There is a potential loophole when it comes to the procedure for evaluating players with gross motor instability. If they just accept the player’s version of why and how he was wobbly, that shouldn’t be good enough. Under the vague but reliable standard of knowing when you see it, we all knew Tua was wobbly from a head wound because we saw it.

Whatever the outcome, the protocol must be applied in a way that protects players with such disabilities, especially since players are typically determined to do what they have to do and say what they have to say to keep playing.

Only a handful of stars, with real and unequivocal job security, have the freedom to be candid about this topic. For everyone else, there are very real potential consequences to not playing, whatever the reason. So there is a very real temptation to ignore possible head injuries in order to continue. The protocol needs to take those dynamics into account to avoid the worst possible outcome – a player who suffered one head injury and then sustains a second one shortly after.

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