Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was stretchered off the field during Thursday’s game after being slammed to the ground and suffering what the team said was neck and head injuries, but the injury and scene sparked shock and outrage online, as well as questions as to whether he should have been playing at all.
The Dolphins said that Tagovailoa was “conscious and has movement in all his extremities” and that he was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center for further evaluation. Miami later said he was to be discharged and would fly home with the team.
The frightening situation happened in Thursday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Ohio, when Tagovailoa was chased down and sacked by the Bengals’ Josh Tupou with about six minutes left in the first half.
While on the ground, his hands froze in front of his face. He remained down for more than seven minutes before being loaded on a backboard, stabilized and strapped to a stretcher after his facemask was removed.
Dolphins head coach said after the 27-15 loss that Tagovailoa is in the concussion protocol. He called it a “scary moment.”
“All of his teammates, myself, we were all very concerned,” McDaniel said. “So, the best news that we could get is that everything has checked out, that he didn’t have anything more serious than a concussion.”
The incident came less than a week after Tagovailoa, 24, left Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills after he appeared to be disoriented. The team originally said he had a head injury after taking a hard hit late in the first half. Tagovailoa returned after halftime.
“What happened to Tua was shameful,” Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said Thursday night. “People should lose their jobs.”
Nowinski, a former WWE wrestler whose own career was ended by two concussions, said Tagovailoa showed clear signs of having suffered a concussion in Sunday’s game and should have never been allowed to return or to play Thursday.
Hours before Thursday's game, Nowinski tweeted that it would be a "massive step back" for concussion care in the NFL if Tagovailoa were to take the field.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes tweeted that he was sending prayers, and Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt wrote, “Stop showing the replays. Please.”
The NFL confirmed Wednesday that it was reviewing whether the Dolphins followed the league’s concussion protocol Sunday when examining a possible head injury for Tagovailoa, and said every indication was that it had been, NFL.com reported.
The player’s union, the NFL Players Association, had sought an investigation into the decision to allow him to return to the game Sunday, NBC Sports reported this week.
The team and Tagovailoa said after Sunday's game against the Bills that he had a back injury, which caused his awkward stumble and fall after he was slammed into the turf in the second quarter.
Miami originally said it was a head injury, but Tagovailoa said after the game that he hit his back on the fall. He said he “hyper-extended” his back after getting his legs caught under someone on a quarterback sneak.
“He’s not a neurologist, he can’t self-diagnose a concussion,” said Nowinski, who has advocated for greater awareness of the dangers of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Two concussions in five days can end a career, he said.
“What they did show a complete lack of care for a human being,” Nowinski said of the Dolphins.
McDaniel, the Dolphins head coach, said Thursday night that if Tagovailoa had a head injury during the Sunday game against the Bills "we would have reported him having a head injury."
"If there’s any sort of inclination that someone has a concussion, they go into the concussion protocol," McDaniel said. He said he would never put a player in a position to be in harm’s way.
The NFL Players Association tweeted Thursday night that its immediate focus was Tagovailoa’s well-being.
“Player health and safety is at the core of the union’s mission. Our concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery. Our investigation into the potential protocol violation is ongoing,” the union said.
Pro Hall of Fame former tight end Shannon Sharpe was among those questioning the Dolphins’ decision to play Tagovailoa.
“That’s a serious injury," Sharpe tweeted. "Tua shouldn’t have been out there with Sunday Thursday turn around. Sometimes players need protecting from themselves. Dolphins failed Tua."
Tagovailoa was replaced in Thursday's game by Teddy Bridgewater.
Tagovailoa has been instrumental in Miami's season, and the team was undefeated 3-0 going into Thursday's game.