VAN WADE — Concussion protocol needs a deeper look for everyone’s safety

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, October 5, 2022

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After casually watching the NFL the last week and a half, there’s one thing we can mostly all agree upon: Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had no business being on the field.

Not in the second half the Sunday before last.

Not in the first half last Thursday night.

The hit he took Thursday practically had my head spinning. It’s like I felt it, too. It didn’t help that they kept showing replays over and over again.

Beyond that, it gets a lot more complicated.

The quarterback was taken away on a stretcher with a concussion during a prime-time game against the Cincinnati Bengals, an especially frightening incident because it came just four days after another hard hit against the Buffalo Bills left him wobbly and woozy.

Thing is, the league has taken steps to make the game safer, from concussion protocols to equipment changes to new rules that penalize brutal blows.

But there are no easy answers when it comes to protecting players who willingly take part in a violent sport, knowing it’s impossible to totally wipe out the risk of catastrophic injuries.

The NFL could surely do more. So could the teams. Most of all, the players themselves could do more. They are often their own worst enemies when it comes to their health.

Something clearly fell through the cracks in this whole deal.

Everyone who viewed the hit Sept 25 — Tagovailoa was shoved after an off-balance throw, the back of his head slamming into the turf — saw the sure signs of a concussion.

Tagovailoa climbed to his feet like a punch-drunk boxer who just received a Mike Tyson right. He shook his head, apparently trying to clear the cobwebs. His legs buckled, causing him to drop briefly to his knees, before he was helped to the sideline.

Stunningly, he missed only three Miami snaps at the end of the first half. Tagovailoa returned after the break to finish the game, leading Miami to a 21-19 victory over the Bills.

While the QB and his team insisted a back injury caused his rubbery legs, that explanation was met with criticism and deservedly so.

So much so that the NFL and the players’ union launched a joint investigation to ensure concussion protocols were followed.

The probe is expected to take up multiple weeks. At the very least, Tagovailoa should have been forced to sit until it was completed.

It also seems logical in these sorts of cases to require a deeper examination by an independent medical team, to ensure a head injury was not the cause of the problem, even when a player passes the initial tests.

Instead, the Dolphins — the AFC’s last unbeaten team before a 27-15 loss to the Bengals — cleared Tagovailoa to play on a shorter-than-usual turnaround against the reigning conference champions.

With about six minutes left in the first half, everyone’s worst fears were realized. Tagovailoa was chased down by a 340-pound lineman, spun around and tossed to the turf head-first.

While on the ground, Tagovailoa’s hands froze in front of his facemask, his fingers flexed awkwardly in what appeared to be the so-called “fencing response” caused by a traumatic blow to the brain.

He didn’t get up this time.

After his latest injury, Tagovailoa was loaded onto a backboard, stabilized and strapped to a stretcher. There was no question he sustained a concussion. He will have to be symptom-free before he is allowed to play again.

A few have mustered the courage to walk away rather than risk injuries that might affect them for the rest of their lives.

If Tagovailoa, only 24, is faced with such a decision, let’s hope he makes the right call.

I saw another vicious hit last Saturday when Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillan Gabriel took a vicious shot to the head from a TCU defender.

He immediately was escorted off the field, walking on his own, but no doubt, he was concussed. He didn’t come back in and will likely be out this week when the Sooners take on Texas.

Maybe it’s just a matter of who you are, how much you make and what NFL team you play for, but at the collegiate level, the Sooners seem to be doing the right thing. We will see.

Van Wade is the Orange Leader sports editor. He can be reached at