By Terrance Turner
Sept. 29, 2022
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was carted off the field after suffering a head injury in tonight’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. In the second quarter of tonight’s “Thursday Night Football”, Tagovailoa got hit by Bengals nose tackle Josh Tupou. Tua was tackled and then thrown down, hitting his head on the turf.
After the hit, his fingers twisted in a grotesque display of TBI.
This posture is known as a “fencing position”. According to Heathline, a network of medical professionals: “When a person experiences an impact that’s strong enough to cause traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as a concussion, their arms often go into an unnatural position. This position — forearms extended or flexed, usually in the air — follows the impact and is known as the fencing response position. It lasts up to several seconds after the collision.
The fencing response is often seen when a player is knocked down or knocked out during full-contact athletic competitions such as football, martial arts, boxing, rugby, and hockey.” And it happens after injury because it’s thought to activate a reflex known as ANTR.
Tua lay motionless on the ground for 10 minutes. People watched in silence. Players huddled around him, visibly concerned. Finally, Tua was placed on a stabilizing board, then a stretcher, and rolled away. He was taken via ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
The Dolphins said at halftime that the quarterback is conscious and has movement in all his extremities. Now, they’re saying that Tua is set to be released from the hospital and fly home with the team tonight (!!!).
This move drew scrutiny after the Dolphins’ handling of Tua’s previous injury. He got hurt in the Dolphins’ game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. He slammed his head against the turf after a hit from Bills linebacker Matt Milano. And he appeared disoriented after he got up. After rising to his feet, his legs buckled and he collapsed.
It seemed obvious that he’d suffered a concussion. And that was reflected in his initial status. But the team backtracked on his status. According to ESPN: “Tagovailoa underwent concussion evaluations at halftime after he hit his head on the ground and then stumbled while trying to return to the huddle. The team initially listed him as questionable to return with a head injury but later said it was a back injury that caused him to stumble.” He returned to the game in the third quarter.
The Dolphins are currently under investigation for their handling of Tagovailoa’s injury in Sunday’s game. The NFL Players Association requested a review of the NFL’s concussion protocols after the Dolphins’ win over the Bills. Now, they’re investigating.
“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 NFLPA said in a statement after Tagovailoa was hurt Thursday night
UPDATE (Sept. 30): Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel addressed the media at a press conference today. He said he spoke to Tua on the flight home: “He was honest about the fact that he had a headache, but his personality was definitely normal Tua.” He added: “Talking to him this morning, I think he’s still feeling some of those headaches […] he’s probably just finishing his MRI right now.” (Tua’s undergoing an MRI as an extra precaution, he said, after X-rays and CT scans lat night.)
A reporter asked if the QB would be placed on injured reserve. McDaniel said he has no timetable for Tua’s return. “Honestly, to be completely forthright, I’m not even really thinking about timetables or anything regarding him as a player,” he said. “It’s all about, really, Tua the person.” He’s grown “very close to” Tua and is concerned about his health. “When it comes to head injuries and concussions,” he said, “the only thing I’m worried about is the person first.”
McDaniels reiterated that Tua was examined after the Bills game Sunday. “He was evaluated for a head injury immediately,” McDaniels said. “He was evaluated and then cleared by several layers of medical professionals who — I don’t pretend to be one — but those people, the collection of them, cleared him of any head injury whatsoever. And he had a back and ankle issue. So in terms of deciding whether or not to play a guy on a game, a Thursday ngiht gane, I’m concerned about his back and his ankle.”
“This is a player-friendly organization,” he said. “I make it very clear from the onset that my job as a coach is here for the players. I take that very serious. And no one else in the building strays from that.” He insisted that there was “no medical indication” that there was something wrong with Tua’s head. If there had been, “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d prematurely put someone out there and put them in harm’s way,” he said.
But that assertion was undercut by McDaniel’s response to the next question. A reporter asked about Tua’s demeanor on the flight. Did he talk about the incident? McDaniel said that Tua sat next to him on the plane. “I was kind of asking him questions about how he was feeling. And that happened for about 15-20 minutes. Then he pulled out his phone,” McDaniel said, and began watching the movie “MacGruber”.
Why was a concussed player in flight, watching a movie on a screen? Sports medicine physician Eric Friedman says that’s a bad idea:
A randomized clinical trial by JAMA Pediatrics last year found that screen time can delay concussion recovery. In a trial for 125 concussion patients, “those who abstained from screen time during the first 48 hours of recovery had a statistically significant shorter duration of symptoms (3.5 days) than those who were permitted screen time (8 days).”
McDaniel seemed unaware of this lapse in judgement. But he took pains to stress his concern about Tua and players’ health. He emphasized the relationships that he has with players, how he sees them as people. And as the press conference went on, McDaniel got emotional: “I’ll never be comfortable with a player getting carted off the field. Ever.”