NFL, NFLPA Agree On Concussion Protocols, Conclude Investigation

OCTOBER 8: In response to the pleas of the NFLPA, the NFL has agreed to the terms of the new NFL-NFLPA Concussion Evaluation and Management Protocol, which will be in effect for this weekend’s slate of games, as first reported by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

The changes that were agreed upon added “ataxia,” defined as an “abnormality of balance/stability, motor coordination or dysfunctional speech caused by a neurological issue,” to a list of mandatory “no-go” symptoms, according to the two parties’ joint statement, first released by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

The joint statement also seems to announce the conclusions of the investigation into Tagovailoa’s situation:

“While the investigation determined that the team medical staff and unaffiliated medical professionals followed the steps of the Protocol as written, the NFL and NFLPA agree that the outcome in this case is not what was intended when the Protocols were drafted.”

This essentially states that the individuals involved in clearing Tagovailoa were able to circumvent the intentions of the concussion protocol to return the quarterback to the field without explicitly disobeying any guidelines of the protocol. This obvious loophole, which allowed alternative causes of gross motor instability to help a player return to play despite showing symptoms of a neurological issue, was what both parties agreed to address in updating the protocol.

From this point on, any player “diagnosed with ‘ataxia’ by any club or neutral physician involved in the application of the Concussion Protocol…will be prohibited from returning to the game, and will receive the follow-up care required by the Protocol.”

It’s wishful thinking, but perhaps this will neatly wrap up the situation surrounding Tagovailoa and the concussion protocol. The flaws in the protocol were addressed, the responsible parties who put Tagovailoa in danger were punished, and the NFL and NFLPA were able to come to an agreement on the conclusions of both situations. It certainly is not the end of health and mental health concerns in the NFL, but it lays a groundwork for how to handle these situations in the future.

OCTOBER 7: There have been some interesting updates in the past couple of days to the situations surrounding both the progress of changing the NFL’s concussion protocols and the progress of the case surrounding the league’s handling of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa‘s injury. Yesterday, former All-Pro cornerback and current member of the NFL Players Association’s Executive Committee Richard Sherman put forth the committee’s belief that “the concussion protocols were not followed” in Tagovailoa’s case, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports. 

Both the NFL and the NFLPA reportedly hoped to announce the results of their investigation before this week’s Thursday night football game, but, since the two parties have yet to come to an agreement on what transpired or what consequences will result, no announcement was made. Sherman made the union’s opinion known and reiterated that they would like for “the players to be treated like patients, not like football players who are intent on being cleared to play football as quickly as possible.” Sherman questioned the NFL’s medical doctor’s stance that an “abundance of caution” was utilized, questioning what “an aggressive approach” would look like.

If the two sides are unable to reach an agreement about what occurred and what should be done about it, the NFLPA will be able to file a grievance which may lead to an arbitration to resolve the case. The investigation “remains ongoing and no resolution is imminent,” according to a tweet from Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

There seems to be more agreement and collaboration concerning the proposed new concussion protocols. A statement from the NFLPA, first reported by Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, states that the “union has agreed to change the concussion protocols to protect players from returning to play in the case of any similar incident” to what was seen with Tagovailoa. The statement also puts forth a desire that the new protocols be put into effect as soon as possible, before the weekend’s slate of NFL games, and urges the league to accept the change in protocol, as well, in time to make that happen.

A statement from the NFL in response to the NFLPA’s statement, and first reported by Pelissero, seems to agree without really agreeing. The statement says that the league agrees “that changes to the joint NFL-NFLPA protocols are necessary to further enhance player safety,” but doesn’t say outright that they agree to the proposed changes. They also don’t blatantly state that they will put the changes into effect, instead claiming that they have “spoken to members of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee and the leadership of the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultants and Independent Certified Athletic Trainers who serve as spotters to discuss these likely changes.”

The proposed changes center on essentially closing the “loophole” on gross motor instability. The NFL has agreed to modify the protocols but has yet to approve the final language. Their responding statement seems to be an attempt to temper the expectations of the Players Association. While it would be ideal to implement the new protocol as soon as this weekend, the actual process of ensuring the protocol is applied consistently across the league requires re-training all involved members of the medical parties listed above in the NFL’s statement.

The league seems to be attempting to show the NFLPA that they are working towards implementing the necessary changes as soon as possible, without guaranteeing that there will be no bumps on the road of that implementation this weekend. The wheels appear to be in motion towards change, but the road is a bit longer than most would have hoped and requires a bit more time to travel.

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