Mike McDaniel Addresses Controversial Tua Tagovailoa Decision

By Jason Hall

September 30, 2022

Miami Dolphins v Baltimore Ravens
Photo: Getty Images

Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel defended the team's handling of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hours after he experienced head and neck injuries on Thursday's (September 29) loss to the Cincinnati Bengals days after experiencing a prior head injury.

"I have 100 percent conviction in our process regarding our players," McDaniel said via NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. "This is a player-friendly organization. ... There was no medical indication from all resources there was anything regarding the head."

The first-year head coach added that he "wouldn't have been able to live with myself" had he knowingly allowed Tagovailoa to play in Thursday's game prematurely, according to Garafolo.

Tagovailoa was ruled out of Thursday's game after experiencing head and neck injuries during a sack with 2:50 remaining in the second quarter, the team confirmed.

On Wednesday (September 27), the NFL confirmed it was reviewing whether Miami followed its league concussion protocol after Tagovailoa temporarily exited the team's win against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday (September 25) for what was initially reported to be a head injury.

McDaniel had previously reiterated that an independent specialist evaluated Tagovailoa on Sunday and the team complied with the NFL's protocol during his postgame press conference.

"That's why the NFL has these protocols, and there's not like every single NFL game that is played," McDaniel said via NFL.com. "There's an independent specialist that specializes in specialty brain matter, so for me, as long as I'm coaching here, I'm not going to fudge that whole situation. If there's any sort of inclination that somebody has a concussion, they go into concussion protocol; it's very strict. People don't vary or stray; we don't mess with that, we never have as long as I've been head coach, so it'd never be an issue that you guys have to worry about."

Many critics, however, questioned the Dolphins decision to play the 24-year-old just days removed from the head injury, including neuroscientist and Concussion Legacy Foundation founding CEO Chris Nowinski, Ph.D., whose non-profit organization aims "to promote smarter sports and safer athletes through education and innovation, and End CTE through prevention and research," according to its website.

"This is a disaster," Nowinski tweeted along with a clip of the sack. "Pray for Tua. Fire the medical staffs and coaches. I predicted this and I hate that I am right. Two concussions in 5 days can kill someone. This can end careers. How are we so stupid in 2022."

The former Harvard football player and professional wrestler had criticized the potential decision to play Tagovailoa hours before Thursday's game.

"If Tua takes the field tonight, it's a massive step back for #concussion care in the NFL," Nowinski said prior to the game. "If he has a 2nd concussion that destroys his season or career, everyone involved will be sued & should lose their jobs, coaches included. We all saw it, even they must know this isn't right."

The NFL Players Association released a statement Thursday night confirming its investigation into the Dolphins' handling of Tagovailoa was ongoing.

"Player health and safety is at the core of the union's mission," the NFLPA tweeted. "Our concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery. Our investigation into the potential protocol violation is ongoing."

Additionally, NFLPA president JC Tretter said the organization was "outraged by what we have seen the last several days and scared for the safety of one of our brothers.

"What everyone saw both Sunday and last night were 'no-go' symptoms within our concussion protocols. The protocols exist to protect the player and that is why we initiated an investigation," Tretter wrote. “Our job as the NFLPA is to take every possible measure to get the facts and hold those responsible accountable. We need to figure out how and why the decisions were made last Sunday to allow a player with a 'no-go' symptom back on the field.

“Until we have an objective and validated method of diagnosing brain injury, we have to do everything possible, including amending the protocols, to further reduce the potential of human error. A failure in medical judgment is a failure of the protocols when it comes to the well being of our players.

“We have come a long way over the past 15 years but the last week proves how far we have left to go.”

Tagovailoa was hospitalized before being discharged and "traveled back with [the] team in a neck brace," and initial "scans were negative," though he's scheduled to have an MRI upon returning to Miami, sources told CBS Sports' Josina Anderson.

McDaniel said that Tagovailoa was "coherent" and "moving his extremities" before being stretchered off the field, Amazon Prime sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung reported prior to the beginning of the third quarter.

The entire Dolphins roster was on the field as Tagovailoa was carted off. The 24-year-old was taken out of the stadium via ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after the injury occurred.

Backup Teddy Bridgewater took over at quarterback in Tagovailoa's absence.

Tagovailoa finished Thursday's game with 110 yards on 8 of 14 passing.

The former Alabama standout was selected by the Dolphins at No. 5 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft and was on pace to have a career season in 2022.

Tagovailoa threw for 925 yards -- the second-most among all NFL quarterbacks -- eight touchdowns and two interceptions on 72 of 101 passing through his first four games.

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