MIAMI — The unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant involved in clearing Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa during last Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills has been fired. Multiple sources said the firing came after it was found the consultant made “several mistakes” in his evaluation.
However, the league and its players’ union issued a joint statement on Saturday that indicated a review into Tagovailoa’s quick return to Sunday’s game is ongoing, while also adding they agree that “modifications to the concussion protocol are needed to enhance player safety.”
“The NFL and the NFLPA agree that The NFLPA’s Mackey-White Health & Safety Committee and the NFL’s Head Neck and Spine Committee have already begun conversations around the use of the term ‘Gross Motor Instability’ and we anticipate changes to the protocol being made in the coming days based on what has been learned thus far in the review process,” the joint statement read.
“The NFL and NFLPA share a strong appreciation for the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants who contribute their time and expertise to our game solely to advance player safety. This program has made our game safer for the athletes who play it for the past twelve seasons.”
A source earlier said the NFL Players Association exercised its right to dismiss the consultant. The NFLPA and the league each have the right to fire an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant (UNC) without agreement from the other party.
Tagovailoa briefly left the game after hitting the back of his head on the ground and stumbling while trying to return to the huddle. He was taken to the locker room and tested for a concussion but returned to the game after passing his evaluation. The Dolphins initially listed him as questionable to return with a head injury but later stated that a back injury Tagovailoa suffered earlier in the game caused him to stumble.
The NFLPA exercised its right to initiate a review of the league’s concussion protocol in response to Tagovailoa’s quick return to the game. A source told ESPN’s Dan Graziano that the UNC was interviewed Friday as part of that investigation.
Tagovailoa, for his part, is expected to be interviewed as part of the NFL and NFLPA review early this week, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That investigation is expected to take another week or two, and the results are anticipated to be announced “almost immediately after,” a league official said.
Criticism of the Dolphins’ handling of the situation was exacerbated Thursday, when Tagovailoa’s head hit the turf again late in the first half while facing the Cincinnati Bengals. Tagovailoa remained on the field for roughly 12 minutes before he was taken away on a stretcher and eventually to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Tagovailoa was diagnosed with a concussion and discharged hours later; he flew back to South Florida with the team early Friday morning. A league source told ESPN that Tagovailoa’s initial scans were negative, and Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel confirmed there was no further damage beyond his concussion.
The quarterback remains in the concussion protocol, and McDaniel said there is no timetable for his return. Tagovailoa is expected to be at the Dolphins’ facility on Monday as he continues to go through protocol. While he does that, images of his brain are being sent to three separate doctors to get different opinions about his condition, sources told Schefter.
McDaniel has faced scrutiny in the days since for playing Tagovailoa, but the coach insisted Friday the Dolphins followed the league process and that the quarterback was cleared by an independent neurologist.
“I have 100 percent conviction in our process regarding our players,” McDaniel said. “This is a player-friendly organization, and I make it very clear from the onset that my job here is for the players. I take that very seriously. No one in the building strays from that. … If there would have been anything lingering with his head, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I prematurely put someone out there and put them in harm’s way.
“This is a relationship that I have with this human being. I take that serious. I wouldn’t have put him out there if there was any inclination given to me whatsoever that he was endangering himself from that previous game.”
NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills said Tagovailoa was evaluated for a concussion every day between the Sunday and Thursday games. The league’s concussion protocol states that the same UNC who performs a player’s initial test “ideally” should perform the follow-up evaluations, but a member of the team’s medical staff may do so, if necessary.
It was not immediately known whether the now-terminated doctor performed Tagovailoa’s follow-up evaluations.
McDaniel said Friday he had “no worries whatsoever” that Tagovailoa had suffered a head injury during the Sunday game.
“I’m in steady communication with this guy day in and day out,” McDaniel said. “We’re talking about high-level football conversations about progressions and defenses and recalling stuff from two weeks previous and then him having to reiterate a 15-word play call. All things, absolutely no signs. There was no medical indication, from all resources, that there was anything regarding the head.”
“Beyond an eyeball test, which I know for a fact you guys would not be very comfortable if I was just relying on that — I mean, it’s the reason why we have tests,” McDaniel added. “He did not have a head injury. So guys hit their heads all the time, and that’s why I was adamant [that] he was evaluated for having a head injury, and he did not have one. And when I tell you he was in complete mental concert, talking to us through it, and then he played the whole game and then he did a press conference and then he did media all week.
“If I were to sit someone for a medical issue going against medical people abstractly, then when do I play him again?”
Tagovailoa tweeted Friday that he was “feeling much better” and thanked everyone for their support.