Tua Tagovailoa’s injury reignites debate over how shows deal with concussions

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Like killer touches and high-flying catches, serious injuries and especially head injuries are essential parts of the football experience – and football broadcast.

So when Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hit the turf Thursday night suffering from what appeared to be his second head injury in five days, he provided the first test of how Amazon, which pays the NFL over $1 billion to broadcast Thursday night games. , would manage what has become a difficult balancing act for the league’s media partners.

The show was tasked with quickly deciding how to show reruns of the injury and how to contextualize it. Tagovailoa had been injured in the previous week’s game against the Bills, wobbling and falling to the ground after a hard knock. He left that game but returned after the Dolphins announced he had cleared NFL concussion protocols. The NFL Players Association has launched a review of how this was handled, and it is ongoing.

After Tagovailoa was injured on Thursday, the game returned from a commercial break and showed a slow-motion replay of his fingers involuntarily flexing after hitting the ground. “We’ll show you in a moment how his fingers stretched out at the end of this game,” game-by-game man Al Michaels said.

Many shows are forced to determine how newsworthy injury reruns 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 matter of philosophy,” CBS vice president of production Howard Bryant said at the time. “It’s a horrific injury, and we described it in depth and documented it, and as a group we felt that was enough.”

Amazon (whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post) showed another replay of Tagovailoa’s injury in the fourth quarter. The multiple replays have drawn the ire of some fans on social media.

Tua Tagovailoa head injury spurs review of NFL concussion protocol

At halftime, the game’s studio team returned to the subject of Tagovailoa but made little reference to Tagovailoa’s injury and status the previous week. Host Charissa Thompson only referred to it obliquely, saying, “Given everything we’ve seen last week and now this week, a really tough sight to see.”

But there has been no discussion of whether Tagovailoa should have played in the first place – not even from former cornerback and Amazon squad member Richard Sherman, who has already posted an essay on the Players’ Tribune titled “Why I Hate Thursday Night Football”. who cited his concerns over player safety and the short delay after Sunday’s games.

Not everyone was convinced the show should have debated the Dolphins’ decision. Andrew Whitworth, a recently retired offensive lineman, responded to an NFL writer’s criticism on Twitter.

“You just criticized former players,” he wrote. “Who played the game. For spending their time talking about their footballer brother who was moving and becoming aware. The evil gaze cares about something entirely other than Tua and her family right now. The policy is for [tomorrow]!”

Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, launched a program to educate broadcasters on how to talk about concussions with Bob Costas, who said he was pulled from Super Bowl coverage of NBC because of his concussion comments. “The problem is that we all thought Bob Costas was untouchable,” Nowinski said. “When he said a bad word about football, he got kicked off NFL shows by NBC. And I think that scared everyone. . . . I watch the games and I hear the fear in [announcers’] voice. If they say the wrong thing about concussions or talk about it in the wrong place, they will lose their jobs.

On Thursday’s pre-game show, the Amazon team had a longer discussion about Tagovailoa’s injury the previous week. The network also offered a more detailed report on 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 finding the right balance on live serious injury coverage is one of the hardest things a sports broadcast has to do. TO DO. “You’re trying to tell a story of what happened, but you’re also making a snap decision,” he said.

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

“How do you say he shouldn’t play if the Dolphins and the doctor give him the green light,” he asked. “Is it hard for Al or [color analyst Kirk] Herbstreit or anyone on the show to say that.

Weinstein added that how injuries are shown and talked about on TV is important to the NFL. When he used to meet with the league before the season about game broadcasts, executives always pointed to the work the NFL was doing to protect players — especially as concussion awareness grew. is increased. “The NFL is aware that there is concern about this at all levels,” Weinstein said.

Mark Maske contributed to this report.

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