The NFL’s concussion problem

By: Noah Zedeck, Symposium Director

The Miami Dolphins are currently under fire for the organization’s apparent mishandling of its star quarterback’s head injuries. The National Football League and its concussion protocols are taking heat as well.   

In week three of the NFL season, the Miami Dolphins faced their division rivals, the Buffalo Bills. Just before halftime, a Bills lineman sacked Miami’s quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa.. As Tua tried to get back on his feet after the hit, viewers watched as he stumbled around the field and had to be held up by some of his teammates. Most people reached a fair conclusion after witnessing this scene unfold: Tua had suffered a head injury and would be unable to finish the game. However, after halftime, Tua shockingly returned to the field and finished the game. TheDolphins announced a minor back injury caused Tua’s apparent stumbling. 

Four days later, Tua and the Dolphins once again took the field for the team’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. During this game, Tua was sacked once again, only this time he didn’t get up.  Dolphin’s personnel carted Tua off the field and took him to the hospital. Doctors determined he had suffered a severe concussion. Now, the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) began an investigation into Miami’s handling of the Tua situation and has vowed to “pursue every legal option.”  

It is the job of the NFLPA to protect and advocate for the players. This includes ensuring that teams follow the various injury protocols in place. The Dolphins insist that they followed the concussion protocols to a tee, and that, per League rules, Tua was evaluated by both team doctors as well as an Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant (“UNC”). The NFLPA, however, isn’t buying it. The UNC that evaluated Tua’s apparent head injury in week three has already been fired, and the investigation is still ongoing. Many people are calling for the League to enhance its concussion protocols.  

If the NFLPA does find that the protocols were not properly followed, it can file a grievance with the NFL. Such filings are resolved via arbitration, and this is not the first time the NFLPA has had to intervene. In the past, the NFLPA has found that protocols were not properly filed. Those filings proceeded to arbitration, where penalties were imposed as fines, staff terminations, and protocol changes.  

This time, however, it appears that the NFL and NFLPA have already reached a settlement of sorts. Both organizations released a joint statement in which the NFL acknowledged that changes needed to, and would, be made to the Leagues concussion protocols. The NFL and NFLPA will have to agree on the changes, and the situation could still proceed to arbitration depending on the results of the NFLPA’s investigation into the matter.  

This situation serves as a reminder of the importance of the Player’s Association to hold teams legally accountable for the safety of their players. It imposes necessary costs upon teams that would otherwise look to win at all costs. 

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