The unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant involved in clearing Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa through concussion protocol in last Sunday’s win over the Buffalo Bills was terminated by the NFL Players Association on Saturday, according to multiple league sources.
One source said “a number of mistakes” were made by the independent doctor in the process that allowed Tagovailoa to return for the second half against Buffalo.
Tagovailoa had two concussion scares within the past week, the second of which knocked him out of Thursday night’s loss at the Cincinnati Bengals. A blow to the head against the turf on a sack by Bengals nose tackle Josh Tupou caused Tagovailoa to get carted away on a stretcher and taken to University of Cincinnati medical facilities. Dealing with a concussion among the head and neck injuries Tagovailoa sustained on Thursday, he was cleared to travel back to South Florida with the team that night.
Whether Tagovailoa would play on Thursday was in question in the four days from the Sunday win over the Bills to the game in Cincinnati. On the Dolphins’ official injury report, the team listed back and ankle injuries for Tagovailoa’s questionable status to play.
When Tagovailoa initially left the Sunday game versus Buffalo, he was announced as being checked for a head injury by the team before Tagovailoa and coach Mike McDaniel said postgame it was actually his back that was the concern.
When Tagovailoa fell back and hit his head from the whiplash of a push from Bills linebacker Matt Milano on Sunday, he initially grabbed at his head, got up, appeared to try to shake his head and stumbled on the field in a woozy state. Doctors checked him on the field at the first half’s two-minute warning and then escorted him to the locker room for further testing before getting cleared to return in the second half.
The NFLPA, after the Sunday game, announced it was investigating Tagovailoa’s clearance against Buffalo.
The NFL and NFLPA issued a joint statement Saturday night, saying their investigation is ongoing, and they “have not made any conclusions about medical errors or protocol violations.”
The statement said “The NFL and the NFLPA agree that modifications to the Concussion Protocol are needed to enhance player safety” and that they “anticipate changes to the protocol being made in the coming days.”
Perhaps in response to media reports of the independent doctor’s dismissal, the statement said: “The NFL and NFLPA share a strong appreciation for the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants who contribute their time and expertise to our game solely to advance player safety.”
On Friday, the words were more emotional.
“We are all outraged by what we have seen the last several days and scared for the safety of one of our brothers,” NFLPA president JC Tretter released in a statement on Twitter the day after the game. “What everyone saw both Sunday and [Thursday] were ‘no-go’ symptoms within our concussion protocols. The protocols exist to protect the player and that is why we initiated an investigation.”
NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills said “it’s impossible to know” if Thursday’s impact to Tagovailoa’s head when he was spun down forcefully by Tupou was exacerbated by the Sunday injury in a Friday interview with NFL Network.
“I didn’t want to hurt Tua. I never intended to hurt him,” Tupou told Bengals reporters Friday. “I was just trying to make a rolling tackle, and his head hit the ground.”
McDaniel has stated repeatedly since the Sunday game against the Bills that Tagovailoa did not suffer a concussion that afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium, even when asked following Thursday’s game if he could state as much with “100 percent certainty.” His reasoning for that, however, was largely due to the unaffiliated consultant’s role.
“Otherwise we would’ve reported him having a head injury,” McDaniel said Thursday night in Cincinnati. “That’s why the NFL has these protocols and there’s, like every single NFL game that is played, an independent specialist that specializes in the specialty of brain matter.”
Sills told NFL Network that Tagovailoa was checked for concussion symptoms in the days following Sunday against Buffalo, as is customary whenever a player is evaluated for a concussion on game day, even if cleared to return that day.
There is no timetable for Tagovailoa’s return, according to McDaniel. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will start for Miami as long as Tagovailoa is out. Nonetheless, Tagovailoa is hopeful to swiftly return to action.
“I’m feeling much better and focused on recovering so I can get back out on the field with my teammates,” Tagovailoa said in a statement released on social media.
The unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, whose name was not revealed, works independently from the Dolphins. That doctor and a team physician from the Dolphins are to work in conjunction in clearing a player that is being checked for a concussion, according to league protocol.