The ratings for Amazon Prime’s first two Thursday night NFL games exceeded expectations, which is to say that this billion-dollar streaming experiment is working out for Big Tech and America’s most popular televised sport. The third Thursday night game, which pitted the Miami Dolphins against the Cincinnati Bengals, was an advertisement on why Google will soon be bidding for Wednesday night games.
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who should not have been playing on short rest, not after he slammed his head on the turf four days before, slammed his head on the turf again and was taken off on a stretcher. Amazon doesn’t care. The NFL doesn’t care. Apparently, the Dolphins don’t care, either, because if they did, Tagovailoa wouldn’t have been on the field Thursday night.
As for us, the fans? Well, we watched, didn’t we? Joe Burrow, pride of Athens, led the Bengals (2-2) to victory over the previously undefeated Dolphins (3-1). Rah.
The brain health of a smallish quarterback out of the University of Alabama is a worthy sacrifice for our enjoyment. Especially here in Ohio.
The NFL knows that much. Its concussion protocol – much ballyhooed after the league reached a $765-million settlement with former players in 2013 – has a huge loophole: Although independent doctors must be involved in every concussion evaluation, the call on a player’s brain health ultimately comes down to the team doctor. And everyone knows who signs the team doctor’s check.
Amazon has a thousand executives who wouldn’t let their kids near a football field, but they will count the dollars and not worry about the sense. It’s Milton Friedman’s doctrine.
This story starts on Sunday, when Tagovailoa, after being shoved by a Buffalo Bills defender, stumbled backwards and wound up bouncing the back of his head off the ground. He got up, took six steps and then his knees buckled. He got up again and two teammates helped him keep his feet.
Tagovailoa left the game and was not put through concussion protocol because, the Dolphins and Tagovailoa later said, the problem was a back injury.
Anyone without a brain could see that Tagovailoa had his bell rung, as Knute Rockne used to say.
Chris Nowinsky, PhD, is a co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation (and a frequent critic of the league). Prior to the Dolphins-Bengals game, he tweeted, “If Tua takes the field tonight, it’s a massive step backward for #concussion care in the NFL. 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 it isn’t right.”
If Tua takes the field tonight, it's a massive step back for #concussion care in the NFL.
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 https://t.co/vxpaOif5rh
— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) September 29, 2022
Then, Tua bounced his head off the floor once again – the close-up shot of him having a “fencing response,” a clear indicator of head trauma, was frightening – and he was stretchered off the field in front of a national television audience.
There was an investigation into the first head-bouncing incident (back injury?), but no conclusions were reached prior to kickoff Thursday night. The NFL Players’ Union, hot after Sunday, is even hotter now. The investigations continue.
There’s a lot going on here. Every player in the league wants to bounce back up and go back in the game. It’s their ethos. It’s also their livelihood. Every coach wants his best players on the field. But where was the alarm? Did everyone in America understand a medical problem that the doctors failed to notice?
Millions of people on Sunday, and then on Thursday, had the same reaction when they saw Tagovailoa staggering, and when they saw him hold his clawed fingers in front of his face: Help that man, grab me another beer, and deliver it for free.
This is a disaster. 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. pic.twitter.com/D8S8eEbgda
— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) September 30, 2022
There was also a cringy local story from last week that I wanted to touch on in this space: Cucho Hernandez, the Columbus Crew’s star striker who was acquired in a massive transfer deal four months ago, was suspended for one game by MLS for using offensive language in a recent game against the Portland Timbers.
According to SB Nation Outsports, Hernandez used a gay slur. He was not punished more severely because the language in question is common in his native Columbia and because – if you’re not a Crew fan, you have to be laughing – the team forgot to give Cucho the training the league mandates to prevent these situations. Whoops.
Good on MLS for its vigilance in these matters and good on Cucho if he takes this as a teachable moment, as the college football coaches like to say.
It’s going to hurt. Cucho has nine goals since he arrived in July, and the Crew needs more from him because they hemorrhage goals in second-half stoppage time, and their playoff hopes are hanging in the balance.
After Miami beat Toronto Friday night, FiveThirtyEight dropped the Crew’s chances of making the playoffs from 45% to 32%. The Crew were three points out of a playoff spot with three games to go prior to their game against the Red Bulls in Columbus Saturday.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Who do the NFL, the Miami Dolphins and their doctors feel no shame?