“Would you put your son back in the game?” –Rex Ryan
It was such a simple question Ryan asked Sunday morning, yet it highlighted just how derelict everyone was who failed Tua Tagovailoa this last week. Not only in medical judgment, but basic human decency.
Would the folks who let Tua Tagovailoa go back in last weekend despite obvious signs of head trauma have done so if it had been their son? Would those who cleared him to play Thursday night, only four days later, been OK with their own son doing so?
Would Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel have so cavalierly referred to a second head injury, the effects of which might not fully be known for years, as “(nothing) more serious than a concussion” if it had been suffered by his son?
MORE PROGRESS NEEDED:Tua Tagovailoa debacle shows NFL still has long way to go in handling concussions
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And the most important question of all, can anyone trust the NFL to fix its head trauma protocols so this doesn’t happen again, this time to somebody else’s son?
“Forget this back and ankle BS we heard about. This is clearly from head trauma. That’s it. to shock. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like,” Ryan, the former Buffalo Bills and New York Jets coach, said on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdownhis outrage growing as he spoke.
“My answer is this: No way in hell I put my son back in that game. No way in hell. And you know what? No way in hell I put somebody else’s son back out there either,” Ryan said. “This is an epic fail.”
One that so easily could have been avoided if only someone – anyone – had exercised even the slightest bit of common sense. Or cared more about Tagovailoa’s health and well-being than the Dolphins’ perfect record or the NFL’s carefully curated image.
Tagovailoa’s head slammed against the turf during the first half of last Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills. He shook his head, as if shaking off cobwebs, as he got up, and took about a half-dozen steps before his legs gave out and he stumbled forward. Tagovailoa’s Dolphins teammates helped keep him upright, but his head hung heavy.
Tagovailoa didn’t grab his back, limp or walk gingerly, as you’d expect if it was the back injury the Dolphins later claimed it was. No, these were classic signs of a head injury, yet Tagovailoa was somehow cleared to play in the second half.
Cleared to play Thursday, too, when a vicious sack left him on his back, the fingers of both of his hands splayed above his head in the “fencing response” that is an indication of a traumatic head injury. Tagovailoa was taken off the field in Cincinnati on a stretcher, and remains in the concussion protocol.
“Like probably most people, I couldn’t believe what I saw,” Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday. “I couldn’t believe what I saw last Sunday. It was something that was just astonishing to see. Coaching for 40 years now, in college and the NFL, and I’ve never seen anything like it before.
“I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
I wasn’t alone. Even those who last took a science class in high school could see the quarterback had no business being on the field in either game, while the people who know better, whose job it was to protect Tagovailoa, instead left him in harm’s way.
Not until Saturday night did the NFL and NFL Players Association announce the obvious, that “modifications to the Concussion Protocol are needed to enhance player safety.”
“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,’ their joint statement said. “We anticipate changes to the protocol being made in the coming days based on what has been learned thus far in the review process.”
It shouldn’t take a review process for the NFL and NFLPA’s “experts” to decree that a player who is wobbly or woozy with no obvious explanation – getting tripped or shoved, for example – is not eligible to return to a game. It shouldn’t have taken a debacle like this to raise the idea that someone whose care is the subject of an investigation, as Tagovailoa’s treatment in the Buffalo game is, shouldn’t play until it’s complete.
And it shouldn’t have taken two serious head injuries in a four-day span, injuries that could have a lasting negative impact on Tagovailoa’s career and life, for it to become obvious that holes in the NFL’s protocols persist. So, too, outdated attitudes about head trauma.
Yet here we are.
The NFL is, as Ryan said, a violent game, and there will always be a risk of injury. But it can be limited if everyone who has a duty of care asks themselves one simple question before and after all else:
If it was your son, would you let him play?
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism