If the NFL was using sub-concussion protocols, it might have saved Tua Tagovailoa from a second more severe head injury. However, I don’t think the way he was slammed and whipped to the ground a second time would have avoided a concussion. But he would not have played in that game. And because he did, it was his second head injury in five days.
Let’s go back to week three against the Bills. In the second quarter, Tua experienced a late hit. He was pushed with force and fell backward to the ground slamming the back of his head on the turf. The back of your brain is your body’s movement and coordination center.
However, Tua sat up and grabbed the sides of his helmet, probably from experiencing dizziness. The most important image of him was when he stood up. He staggered for a few steps and briefly lost balance and power in his legs. As a result, he collapsed to his knees. Immediately, Tua got back up to his feet. And consequently, you could see something was wrong.
Tua walked off the field and spent all the first half in the locker room going through concussion protocol. He passed the protocol, no concussion was found, and he returned to play in the second half.
The Rules Need Some Revision
But what the NFL really needs to do is dive into and investigate sub-concussion trauma. Tua would not have returned to the game if there had been a sub-concussion protocol. And probably sat out the next game against the Bengals, where he smacked his head again.
It is hard to say what could or could not have happened. Did slamming his head for a second time cause the concussion that could have been avoided if he had sat out? Or was it the way Tua was tackled by being slung to the ground like some MMA cage match?
So, it gives standing to a few issues.
In any event, Tua was taken off the field by stretcher and immediately labeled with a concussion. Because as he laid on the ground, he went into what is called a “fencing response.” It is an instant sign of concussion or brain damage. It is when your hands immediately rise in front of you, and your fingers splay. He also sustained head and neck injuries from violently being whipped to the ground.
Sub-concussion trauma is like a concussion, except you can’t see any physical signs of damage on the brain, only symptoms. Therefore, the player will pass a concussion protocol.
For example, some signs of this type of trauma are headache, dizziness, immediate loss of feeling, balance disturbances, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating. It can also lead to concussions and severe issues with the brain, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and cognitive difficulties with learning, focus, and memory.
Sub-concussion trauma is severe and silent and happens from head impact like Tua experienced. But not only that, sub-concussion trauma is common in football due to the small to many helmet jolts and blows during the game. These minor impacts add up over time and lead to more serious head trauma and damage later in life. Many retired professional football players today have and experience sub-concussion trauma.
Chris Nowinski is an executive for the Concussion Legacy Foundation. After seeing Tua stagger and collapse to the ground playing against the Bills, he commented, saying, there are risks if Tua plays again too soon after slamming his head.
After Tua’s second head trauma experience against the Bengals, Chris said, “You guys should go to jail for letting him play five days after an obvious concussion you covered up. If he dies from second-impact syndrome, I’m pushing for murder charges.”
The NFL needs to be on top of protection more effectively and stop unnecessary roughness that leads to injury. And they also must add stricter protocols for head trauma.
Tua Tagovailoa being sidelined for concussion could hurt the Dolphin’s pursuit and hunt to the Super Bowl. Like any team, a premiere player’s injury can rack up “L’s” and hurt their chances. Understood. But consequently, you can’t reverse brain damage. And having a concussion makes your brain vulnerable to another. In any event, seeing so much love and support for a player when severely injured is great. But I think it’s more important to see that love and support transferred into creating better protections, rules, and regulations to stop it from happening again.