His fingers cramp, his legs stiffen and the stadium goes silent.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hit his head on the artificial turf last week after a tackle from a Cincinnati Bengals defender. The second time in a week the NFL player has been slammed and left groggy. After a similar blow to the Buffalo Bills four days earlier, Tagovailoa gets up again, shakes his head a few times, but falls between the hooves after three steps.
After the harsh beating against the Bengals, doctors rush Tagovailoa on a stretcher from the field to the nearest hospital. In the United States, people are now mainly asking: why did the 24-year-old quarterback play so soon after that first move?
The rules surrounding concussions in the NFL, which has a checkered history of brain damage, are rigorous and detailed. “Lookouts” sit in the stands, looking for suspicious behavior, along the line and in the dressing rooms, neurospecialists are ready in case of an emergency.
According to the so-called “Concussion Protocol”, which has been around since 2011, a player must be removed from the field if he shows symptoms of a concussion or has severe motor abnormalities.
Against the Bills, Tagovailoa stumbled sideways, was reviewed, and returned to the field. No signs of concussion, doctors said. The scooting was the result of a back injury, the Dolphins said afterwards. This was not the case for some former players and neuro-experts. Criticism of doctors’ actions has increased.
Returning to the field after symptoms of concussion is not permitted until the club doctor and an “independent neurological consultant” give their blessing. Tagovailoa passed those tests and was back on the pitch four days later.
But the ‘independent’ doctor who gave Tagovailoa the green light to return to play after his first blow to the back was sacked over the weekend following the second collision. The neurotrauma doctor allegedly made “several errors” while checking the Dolphins quarterback, according to ESPN, which relies on NFL sources.
Tagovailoa’s retirement sparks an eternally dormant debate in American football over brain damage.
The NFL and players’ union responded in a joint statement to the events of the past week. “The NFL and NFLPA agree that adjustments need to be made to concussion protocol that will increase player safety.” They expect these changes in the coming days.
dr. Bennet Omalu
In the United States, these protocols are just as precarious as with a real brain. Brain damage is a sensitive issue in the NFL. The fact that American football players have a relatively higher risk of brain damage was already revealed two decades ago. It wasn’t until 2015 that much attention was brought to the problem worldwide through the film Concussion. About the life of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was the first doctor to discover brain damage at the late Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster at the turn of this century.
Over the years there have been safer helmets, stricter tackling rules – no hitting or using the head – and bodies such as the Head, Neck and Spine Commission to ensure the player safety. The number of incidents has declined, but numbers from the past – at least 320 former NFL players have been diagnosed with permanent brain damage – continue to float in people’s minds.
Permanent brain damage is also receiving attention in other sports. In rugby, for example, where people play without helmets, concussions occur regularly. But there are also concerns in football.
Just under two years ago, the international IFAB rules committee decided to experiment with an additional replacement should a football player with a head injury have to leave. Prevent the player from continuing to play without sufficient control. Much to the delight of VVCS President Yevgeny Levchenko, who learned that “the head is more harmful than a punch from a boxer.”
Tagovailoa is better
After Tagovailoa’s knockout against the Bengals, permanent brain damage was feared for some time. A day after the crash, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Tagovailoa still had headaches, but was on the mend.
The Dolphins do not give any length on the recovery of Tagovailoa. The quarterback himself was combative via Twitter. “I feel a lot better and I’m focusing on my recovery so I can get back on the pitch with my teammates soon.”
“Introvert. Avid gamer. Wannabe beer advocate. Subtly charming zombie junkie. Social media trailblazer. Web scholar.”