Tua Tagovailoa and the hard truth of showing replays

Tua Tagovailoa
By Richard Deitsch
Oct 3, 2022


I’ve been writing a lot lately about what gets said — and, far more notably, about what does not get said — during NFL broadcasts. Why does this matter? Because what is said during games has a far bigger impact than any studio show given the massive viewership of NFL telecasts. Last month in this column, I led with the following: “How far can a media rightsholder partner go criticizing NFL owners on a game broadcast?” I asked readers: “When was the last time you watched an NFL game where game announcers were critical of ownership? Not some cursory remark but an in-depth conversation on an issue of relevance?” I’m still waiting for some examples. My colleague, Kalyn Kahler, wrote a piece following the Browns-Steelers game that examined something that regularly happens on NFL game broadcasts — the lack of specificity and depth when it comes to issues that look unfavorably on the league.


So I had been thinking about this subject prior to Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa being slammed into the Paycor Stadium turf last Thursday night. The NFL Players Association has since terminated the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant involved in Tagovailoa’s concussion check while the NFL and the NFLPA released a joint statement Saturday night agreeing to modify the league’s concussion protocols based on conversations around the use of the term “gross motor instability.” The Athletic has written multiple pieces on Tagovailoa, including NFL writer Mike Jones on concussion protocol and culpability and Bill Shea on how Amazon handled Tagovailoa’s injury.

My topline thoughts on Amazon’s broadcast last week would not be much different than what you have already read from thoughtful people. I found the game announcers underwhelming on the subject of Tagovailoa’s injury. The system is designed to get you to the next play. There are millions of fans who suggest that the game is not the place for a long discussion of something such as a brain injury. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. I respect that view. But none of this should be surprising because, at the core, the networks are partners with the NFL. They are in business together, especially on game coverage.

But there was one thing that aired last Thursday night that I thought was honest. In fact, it was the most honest thing I witnessed in the three-plus-hour broadcast. That was the decision by Amazon’s production truck to show a half-dozen-or-so replays of Tua’s injury that included some high-def closeups. This was honest sports television, the violence of pro football unvarnished. It was painful and uncomfortable to watch. But it was real. (I recommend this excellent piece by Kyle Koster of The Big Lead on it.).

The NFL has always come with an inherent tension as a viewer. The sport is thrilling, a near-perfect television experience, but those who play it suffer for our escapism. I agree with Koster that we owe it to the players to not close our eyes on pro football’s ills. One can have nuance and balance on the topic without wanting to ban the sport entirely.


I understand I’d be in the minority among NFL viewers when it came to Tua’s replays — and I have colleagues at The Athletic and former ones I respect immensely who were very public about saying Amazon went too far. But NFL game producers have told me for years that the singular charter they have is to chronicle the game on the field. To gloss over the uncomfortable is to not fulfill the charter you claim is most important.

On Sunday, I emailed Chris Nowinski, a co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and a frequent critic of the NFL, to ask how he views replays when someone hits the ground in a way associated with brain injury. How does he see the tension of the images versus the discomfort of seeing them and a viewer’s desire for escapism?

“I usually look away when I see a knee explode or a bone break,” Nowinski said. “It dredges up memories of pain from previous injuries of my own. It also doesn’t teach us anything we don’t already know, so it’s mostly about the spectacle. However, replays with brain injuries don’t bring up those memories because you don’t have nociceptive pain nerves in your brain, so most concussions are painless. As seen by what happened to Tua Tagovailoa last Sunday, concussions can be difficult to recognize, even for doctors. Therefore, showing replays that allow us to see how concussions happen, as well as the signs athletes show that suggest they need to be removed, provides value to the public by training the audience to recognize concussions in their own lives and protect their children.”

If you are a current (or future) broadcaster or journalist interested in The Concussion Legacy Foundation Media Project, whose goal is concussion education for journalists, you can click here for more information.

I reached out privately to Rich Ohrnberger, who played guard for the Patriots, Cardinals and Chargers during a six-year career and is now a sports host in San Diego, to thank him for providing insight to NFL viewers through his Twitter feed. Former NFL players now in sports media really provide a service when they offer first-hand perspective on how injuries get handled. Same with former All-Pro lineman Mitchell Schwartz, who has been tremendous on this subject.

Credit to ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown for giving Stephania Bell three minutes of uninterrupted air time to offer viewers a high-level education on concussion education and objective testing. “The challenge with brain injuries is they are like snowflakes,” Bell said. “No two are alike.”

Below, tweets from Nowinski, less than six hours apart. I recommend this two-part interview with Nowinski last week with The Dan LeBatard Show.

I thought this was very good from “Sunday Night Football” analyst Rodney Harrison.

The Ink Report

1. The newest edition of ESPN’s “E:60” debuts Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+ and features reporting well worth your investment. “Truth Be Told – The Fight For Women’s Professional Soccer” is a 90-minute examination of the institutional failures that plagued the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and led to numerous coaches and administrators being fired or resigning. (If you are a subscriber of The Athletic, you likely remember this impactful piece from my colleague Meg Linehan last September where former NWSL players accused former coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion.) The doc is narrated by reporter Lisa Salters and directed and produced by Jennifer Karson-Strauss. In an interview I did with Karson-Strauss this week (which you can read below), she cited director of photography Michael Bollacke, editor Amanda Winkler, associate producer Madeline Rundlett and executive story editor Michael Baltierra as key behind-the-scenes staffers. Having watched a screener of the doc last week, I can’t recall a former sports commissioner coming off as poorly as former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird did when questioned by Salters.

How was this project conceived?

Karson-Strauss: I was sitting on my couch at home (last October), and like so many other soccer fans in this country taking notice (of) the powerful moment of solidarity that was transpiring during the sixth minute of play across all NWSL matches. Although so many sports fans know of the U.S. Women’s National Team, the casual sports fan generally doesn’t know much about the league the majority of those women play in. After this moment, and following the shocking allegations detailed by The Athletic and The Washington Post, there were national headlines about the reckoning that had sparked. I wanted to tell more of the story and learn how we got here. I wanted our general audience to have an understanding of not only the trauma but the human interest stories of the women within the league. Though a lot of reporting had been done in a written format, the story hadn’t been told on television. Having played the game my whole life, including at the Division-I level, I felt a deep pull for us at “E:60” to be the ones to tell that story. I pitched it to my team that very night at a very late hour and got an immediate “yes” from (Baltierra). It was the fastest greenlit story I had ever pitched. It took nearly one year of reporting, seven months of filming, and four long months of editing.

What was the singular biggest challenge with the piece?

The biggest challenge was, “How do I tell this in 90-minutes?” The film started off as an hour but as we constructed it and were able to land some key additional interviews, it was clear we needed more time. Even in saying that, soccer fans will know several hours of broadcast time would be needed to reveal all of the abuse scandals around the league, and that probably still wouldn’t be enough. That was what kept me up at night — making sure we were serving not only the soccer fan but the general audience too.

Were you in the room during the Lisa Baird interview?

I was. It was definitely an interview I won’t forget. I first spoke with Lisa Baird over text message. We scheduled a phone call and had a conversation about her participation in the film. She eventually agreed. The day of her interview, I was holding my breath until she actually arrived. We wanted to make sure that we gave Baird the opportunity to share her side of the story and for her to be represented in this film. I wasn’t sure if she would have a change of heart, knowing that in covering the history of women’s soccer, which was important for me to do, we were going to also go over the fallout in the league and its reckoning, which clearly Baird was part of. We had no idea how the interview would go once we shifted gears to Paul Riley.

What was your reaction when you heard Baird’s responses?

I knew it would be tense. I had no idea it would be that tense. There were a number of responses I was prepared for her to give. I was not expecting the response she ultimately provided on a number of topics. It was an uncomfortable setting, and I think that is felt on-screen too. (Salters) did a fantastic job in the chair, making sure to ask Baird simple, direct questions. The answers Baird gave didn’t only shock me but will likely shock our viewers too.


2. Hazel Mae has served as an MLB in-game reporter for a couple of decades now, including stops in two baseball-crazy markets — Boston and Toronto. Mae estimates that since 2016, she’s covered close to 25 clubhouse celebrations as part of her postseason duties for MLB International. Her main job is for Sportsnet (Canada), the rightsholder for the Blue Jays, and last Friday night, Mae was in the Blue Jays locker room as the team celebrated clinching a playoff appearance.

For the million-plus who watched the postgame on Sportsnet, Mae put on a professionalism clinic amid absurd circumstances: She was repeatedly drenched with beer and champagne for about 15 minutes while interviewing players in a raucous clubhouse for a live broadcast.

“The first time I remember reporting from inside a clubhouse during a clinching/postseason-winning scenario was back in 2009 when I was with MLB Network,” Mae said. “My most vivid memory about that very first time was being doused by champagne and beer wearing no poncho or raincoat or hat. After that initial celebration, moving on to the next rounds, I remember thinking, ‘How I can still look professional covering them?’ So I decided to put a network ballcap on, rain poncho, and thought to myself, if they douse you, just continue on with my line of questioning. The biggest thing to remember for me was to keep the focus on the players, and not the fact I was pulled into being part of the celebration.

“This year was a little different. My producer Doug Walton, director Troy Clara and I discussed how to tackle the clubhouse celebration. They said, ‘Just go do your thing, and if I need you to throw it back to (game broadcasters) Dan Shulman or Buck Martinez, I’ll let you know in your ear.’ At that point, I thought I’d talk to one or two guys at a time and throw back. But this year, Doug told me to walk around, grab some guys to talk to, and that Troy was just going to keep rolling. I had no idea he was going with me live for 15 straight minutes. My approach is always be the eyes and ears of the fan. What would they like to see? We take for granted sometimes the kind of access we get as MLB rightsholders, so I try to put myself in their shoes and think, ‘Who would I want to hear from?'”

I worked at Sportsnet for 3 1/2 years, including serving as a co-host for Bob McCown, the country’s most famous sports radio broadcaster. Mae’s professionalism always struck me when I worked at the same place as her, as it does now. She’s been able to navigate the line between having the unique access afforded a team broadcaster without coming off as an outright cheerleader. My hope is that Rogers management, which has continually cut quality staffers from its sports talent base (no, I am not including myself here; my contract simply ran out and I appreciate them overpaying me for as long as they did) continues to recognize what a gem they have in her.

Live television is never easy. It becomes infinitely more challenging when you are doing it amid champagne and beer being tossed on and around you. There were a lot of social media comments in Canada about Mae (nearly universally positive — a Twitter miracle) and she trended during the postgame celebration. I asked if she heard from anyone notable after the game.

“I did hear from former Blue Jay pitcher Ricky Romero,” Mae said. “It meant a lot coming from a former player who has dealt with plenty of media in his day. He tweeted a lovely note and then followed it up with a text message telling me how much he enjoyed our coverage of the postgame, clubhouse celebrations. The next day (Blue Jays president) Mark Shapiro came by my makeshift desk outside the clubhouse and said, “I hope you’ll have four more celebrations like that to cover.”

2a. Per analysis from Sports Business Journal’s David Broughton, basketball remains the most popular major participatory sport in the United States. Per Broughton, “a total of 27.1 million people in the U.S. age 6-plus played basketball at least once in 2021, 11.5 million more than baseball. Pandemic-related restrictions negatively affected the participation rates of indoor and team sports. Nine- or 18-hole golf and tennis were the most popular individual sports, with 25.1 million and 22.6 million participants, respectively.”

2b. Good piece by Christopher Harris of World Soccer Talk that examines broadcast questions MLS must answer before the Apple TV launch.

2c. Showtime Sports announced last week it had hired Rachel Nichols to work as part of its Showtime Basketball brand. The longtime journalist will serve as a host and producer for multiple programs and projects across multiple platforms. She discussed her ESPN departure here with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, who host the “All The Smoke with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson” video podcast.

3. Episode 245 of the Sports Media Podcast features Yahoo Sports NFL writer Shalise Manza Young and Front Office Sports senior reporter A.J. Perez. In this podcast, Young and Perez discuss Mississippi’s sprawling welfare corruption scandal that has ensnared several people, including retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, and the sports media coverage surrounding it; companies enabling Favre; Perez’s reporting on Favre; whether any game broadcast would discuss Favre; the language on television surrounding Deshaun Watson; Kim Mulkey’s non-comment on Brittney Griner; how they viewed coverage of Ime Udoka’s suspension; the thought posited by sports writer Sean Highkin that sports reporters and sports media personalities who have an agent should be required to disclose it when reporting on a player or coach repped by the same agency as them, and more.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, and more.

3a. Episode 244 of the Sports Media Podcast features Ashley Adamson, the lead studio host for football and basketball on the Pac-12 Network, and Lisa McCaffrey, a former Stanford University star soccer player who has raised four adult sons, all of whom still play or coach football, most notably Christian McCaffrey, who plays for the Carolina Panthers. In this podcast, Adamson and McCaffrey discuss their new podcast, “Your Mom,” a weekly conversation with moms of the most notable, successful people on the planet; how this venture came together; how they make the pitch to the moms they want; their conversations with the mothers of Ryan Leaf (Marcia Leaf) and Jake Plummer (Marilyn Plummer); where they hope this podcast is a year from now; how to build a podcast from scratch, and more.

4. Sports pieces of note:

I wanted to highlight pieces honoring Dodgers broadcasting legend Jaime Jarrín, who will retire this year from baseball broadcasting after 64 seasons.

• ‘It’s the right time.’ Dodgers legend Jaime Jarrín ready to sign off with gratitude. By Jorge Castillo of the L.A. Times.

• Cynthia Littleton of Variety had a Q&A with Jarrín.

• Great 10-minute interview from Steve Saldivar of the L.A. Times on Jarrín’s career.

Via Dylan Hernández of the L.A. Times: Jaime Jarrín’s dignity driven by his sense of duty as a Latino immigrant.

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com had an appreciation for Jarrín.

• Brett Favre’s foundation, aimed at helping children and cancer patients, gave funds to USM athletics. By Katie Strang and Kalyn Kahler of The Athletic.

CBC’s Vicki Hall had Part 2 of her oral history on the 1972 Summit Series.

• Fishing Contest Rocked by Cheating Charges After Weights Found in Winning Catches. By Vimal Patel of The New York Times.

• 125 die as tear gas triggers crush at Indonesia soccer match. By Agoes Basoeki and Niniek Karmini of the Associated Press.

• Great piece by The Athletic’s Jason Jones on Harold Ramírez dying his hair blue in support of autism awareness.

Non-sports pieces of note:

• Nature Has Its Way of Ending Life. I’m Changing the Manner and the Time. By Rachel Handler of The Cut.

• How the CIA failed Iranian informants in its secret war with Tehran. By Joel Schectman and Borzogmehr Sharafedin of Reuters.

• All of This Will Happen Again. More pandemics will come. America has chosen to remain unprepared. By Ed Yong of The Atlantic.

• A cache of nearly 160,000 files from Russia’s powerful internet regulator provides a rare glimpse inside Vladimir V. Putin’s digital crackdown. By Paul Mozur, Adam Satariano, Aaron Krolik and Aliza Aufrichtig of The New York Times.

• A Custody Evaluator Who Disbelieves 90 Percent of Abuse Allegations Recommended a Teen Stay Under Her Abusive Father’s Control. By Hannah Dreyfus of Pro Publica.

The Miami Herald’s Hurricane Ian coverage.

• How to make sense of Xi Jinping. By The Economist.

• Nina Totenberg Had a Beautiful Friendship With RBG. Her Book About It Is an Embarrassment. By Michael Schaffer of Politico.

• The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. By Alan Sepinwall for Rolling Stone.

Via Manohla Dargis: Exploiting Marilyn Monroe for Old Times’ Sake.

• Five things about COVID we still don’t understand at our peril. Unlocking these secrets might arm us with strategies to protect ourselves and stop the next pandemic. By Mark Johnson of The Washington Post.

• The Quest to Find Twitter’s Elusive Bot Team. By Morgan Meaker of Wired.

• Arrests and Warnings as Iranian Soccer Stars Take Side in Protest. By Rory Smith and Tariq Panja of The New York Times.

• They Legitimized the Myth of a Stolen Election — and Reaped the Rewards. By Steve Eder, David D. Kirkpatrick and Mike McIntire of The New York Times.

(Photo: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

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Richard Deitsch

Richard Deitsch is a media reporter for The Athletic. He previously worked for 20 years for Sports Illustrated, where he covered seven Olympic Games, multiple NCAA championships and U.S. Open tennis. Richard also hosts a weekly sports media podcast. Follow Richard on Twitter @richarddeitsch