The Miami Dolphins are facing criticism for playing Tua Tagovailoa prior to his injury during the team's primetime game against the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night, just days removed from experiencing a prior head injury.
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, 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.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel 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."
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.