The pro football consultant who cleared Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to play during the team’s Sept. 25 game has been terminated, a source familiar with the matter said.
The consultant, who was not named, gave his approval after Tagovailoa hit his head on the turf during Miami’s 27-15 win Sunday at Buffalo. Afterward, the player stumbled and fell to his knees.
Nonetheless, the quarterback was allowed to return to the game in the third quarter, and he played again Thursday in the Dolphins’ home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a matchup in which Tagovailoa’s head struck the turf during a sack by defensive tackle Josh Tupou.
Tagovailoa, 24, was taken off the field on a stretcher and is sidelined indefinitely.
NBC Sports and its Pro Football Talk platform first reported the termination of the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, or UNC.
The consultants are hired jointly by the players’ union, the NFL Players Association, and the league, under pro football’s concussion protocol, which is intended to prevent the kind of traumatic brain injuries that have plagued the sport for decades.
According to the NFL’s concussion protocols, a team’s unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant is required to be “a physician who is impartial and independent from any Club, is board certified in neurology, emergency medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, or any primary care CAQ [certificates of added qualification] sports medicine certified physician or board eligible or board certified in neurological surgery, and has documented competence and experience in the treatment of acute head injuries.”
The consultant wasn’t the only official involved in clearing Tagovailoa to play.
A league source says the NFL and NFLPA jointly conducted interviews Friday afternoon with those involved in clearing the quarterback to play Sunday, including club personnel and the consultant who was terminated.
In a joint statement the NFL and the union said that their investigation into the decision to allow Tagovailoa to play Sunday was ongoing, but that both entities agree that the league’s concussion protocol needs to be updated to better define “gross motor instability” and use the signs to prevent further injury.
Under the league’s concussion protocol, a display of gross motor instability should trigger a concussion evaluation by medical personnel.
If the personnel, including the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, determine that the display didn’t have a neurological cause, the player can return to play.
The ugly injuries Sunday and Thursday prompted widespread criticism of the system and personnel in place to prevent such incidents.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw last night,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday. “I couldn’t believe what I saw last Sunday. It was just something that was astonishing to see. I’ve been coaching for 40 years now, college in the NFL, almost 40, and I’ve never seen anything like it before. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Tagovailoa was rechecked every day leading up to Thursday’s game, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer told NFL Media.
Following Thursday’s injury, Tagovailoa was taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for evaluation before he was sent home with his team. Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said it wasn’t yet clear when Tagovailoa will be able to return to the field.
The team’s next game is Oct. 9 against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Minyvonne Burke is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News.
David K. Li