Tua Tagovailoa’s injury renews debate over how broadcasts handle concussions

Like bruising touchdowns and high-flying catches, serious injuries, and especially head injuries, are a staple of the football experience — and football broadcasting.

When Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hit the floor Thursday night, His second head injury in five daysIt provided the first test of what Amazon is like It pays the NFL more than $1 billion to broadcast Thursday night gamesThe league’s media partners will handle what has become a difficult balancing act.

The broadcast was tasked with quickly deciding how to show the recurrence of the injury and how to contextualize it. Tagovailoa suffered the injury during the previous week’s game against the Bills, staggering to the ground after a hard hit. He left that game, but returned after the Dolphins said he violated the NFL’s concussion protocol. The The NFL Players Association has launched a review of how it was handled, which is ongoing.

After Tagowailoa was injured Thursday, the game returned from a commercial break and again showed the slow motion of his fingers, which involuntarily bent after he hit the ground. “We’ll show you in a moment how his fingers were extending at the end of that play,” play-by-play man Al Michaels said.

Plenty of broadcasts are forced to decide how newsworthy injury replays are, and some decide they aren’t. When Alex Smith suffered a horrific leg injury several seasons ago, CBS only showed one replay. “It’s a philosophical thing.” CBS Vice President of Production Howard Bryant said at the time. “It was a terrible injury, and we covered and documented it in depth, and as a team we felt that was enough.”

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Amazon (whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post) showed Tagovailoa another recurrence of the injury in the fourth quarter. Many reprints It drew the ire of some fans on social media.

Tua Tagovailoa’s head injury prompts NFL to review concussion protocol

During the break, the game’s studio crew returned to the topic of Dagovailova, but made little mention of Dagovailova’s injury and condition the previous week. Host Karissa Thompson only hinted at it obliquely, saying, “Given everything we’ve seen last week and now this week, it’s a very difficult scene to watch.”

But there’s no debating whether Tagovailoa should have played in the first place — even former cornerback and Amazon board member Richard Sherman once published an article in the Player’s Tribune titled “Why I Hate Thursday Night Football.” It cited his concerns about player safety and the short turnaround from Sunday games.

Not everyone believes the show should have discussed the Dolphins’ decision. Recently retired Andrew Whitworth responded to criticism from an NFL writer on Twitter.

“You criticized former players,” he wrote. “Who played. For spending time talking to their football brother about movement and self-awareness. Bad looks for anything but Dua and his family at the moment. Policy is [tomorrow]!”

Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, started a program to educate broadcasters about how to talk about concussions with Bob Costas, who said he was fired from NBC’s Super Bowl coverage because of his commentary on concussions. “The problem is, we all thought Bob Costas was untouchable,” Nowinski said. “When he said a bad word about football, he got kicked off NBC’s NFL broadcast. I think that scared everybody. . . . I watch the games and hear the fear. [announcers’] Voices. If they say a bad thing about a concussion or bring it up in the wrong place, they can lose their job.

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During Thursday’s pregame show, the Amazon crew discussed Tagoailoa’s injury the previous week at length. The network provided in-depth coverage of the injury after the game, including a detailed explanation of the league’s concussion protocols by reporter Michael Smith.

Michael Weinstein, a longtime sports executive and producer, including NFL games, said striking a balance in live coverage of serious injuries is one of the hardest things a sports broadcaster has to do. “You’re trying to tell a story of what happened, but you’re jumping to conclusions,” he said.

Weinstein thought the context of Tagovailoa’s previous injury was important and should be highlighted, but he said it’s difficult for broadcasters to speculate about whether a player should or should not play.

“If the Dolphins and the doctor give him the green light, how do you say he can’t play,” he asked. “It is difficult for Al or [color analyst Kirk] Herbstreet or anyone in broadcasting should have said that.

Weinstein said the way injuries are portrayed and talked about on TV matters to the NFL. When he meets with the league before the season about televised games, executives always highlight the work the NFL is doing to protect players — especially as awareness of concussions has grown. “The NFL knows there is concern about this at every level,” Weinstein said.

Mark Maske contributed to this report.

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