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NFLPA: No “meaningful application” of concussion protocol to Tua Tagovailoa

Nyheim Hines’ concussion against the Broncos leads Mike Florio and Peter King to discuss the disagreement between the NFL and NFLPA on how the Tua Tagovailoa situation was handled.

Saturday’s joint statement from the NFL and the NFL Players Association allowed the management and labor to resolve the Tua Tagovailoa investigation without further acrimony or, in theory, a full-blown arbitration. But it’s clear that the two sides agree to disagree on whether the concussion protocol properly was applied to Tua Tagovailoa after he exited the September 25 game against the Bills with an apparent head injury.

Per the statement issued by both the league and the union: “Following the complete review, the parties concluded that while the step-by-step process outlined in the Concussion Protocol was followed, the outcome in this case was not what was intended when the Protocol was drafted.”

This carefully-worded conclusion has allowed the NFL to assert that the steps of the protocol were properly applied. It also has allowed the NFLPA to assert that they were not.

During a late Saturday afternoon session with reporters, the league made clear its position that it believes the doctors did what they were supposed to do. The NFL also made clear its position that the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant, who was fired at the behest of the NFLPA, should not have been relieved of his duties. Along the way, NFL Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills defended the quality of the doctors utilized by the league in clear terms.

NFLPA president JC Tretter separately said this on Twitter: “We do not believe this was a meaningful application of the protocols. Nobody, including the NFL, believes [Tagovailoa] should have been put back in the game. It is problematic that he was cleared for a back injury for which the lead doctors never took the time to examine.”

That really is the most significant, and troubling, aspect of the joint statement. The two sides agree that the doctors simply took the player at his word that the wobbling and stumbling was the result of a back injury, without ever examining his back.

That goes directly to a broader point the NFLPA has consistently made regarding the entire situation. When a player exhibits the instability that Tua did, he shouldn’t return to the game, no matter the cause. The doctors, however, focused only on whether he could return as a matter of brain health, ignoring the question of whether the wobbling due to the back injury should have kept him from returning.

The fact that the league and the union have essentially agreed to disagree on Tua doesn’t matter. They’ve revised the protocol to prevent it from happening again. Which confirms, despite the NFL’s circling of the wagons on the work done by the relevant doctors to protect Tua, that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.