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Is It Time For NFL Networks To Add ‘Injury Analysts’ To Coverage?

  • Fox hiring of ‘Rules Expert’ Mike Pereira changed NFL coverage forever.
  • Amazon, NBC, ESPN now boast Sports Medicine/Injury experts.
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The NFL’s TV partners are always experimenting with coverage. Given the rash of controversial injuries this season, the time may be coming where media partners like ESPN and Fox add full-time “Concussion/Injury” analysts to their telecasts. 

These medical specialists could explain on-field injuries, head trauma, and protocols to viewers following injuries such as the devastating concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.

It was only 12 years ago that Fox hired Mike Pereira for an on-air job as “Rules Expert.” The former vice president of NFL officiating revolutionized the league’s TV coverage, explaining referee calls and the arcane rulebook to millions of viewers. 

Now every NFL media partner boasts their own “Officiating Analyst” or “Rules Expert” a la Pereira. Former Fox executive Patrick Crakes would not be surprised to see medical doctors/neurologists analyze injuries in the near future.

“When it comes to the star players, figuring out what’s going on matters — a lot,” Crakes said. “I could absolutely see it. Would it be as in-depth and as prevalent as the rules analysis? I would say no. But I think you will see more of it.”

The NFL’s TV partners have tinkered with the idea. But medical experts have mostly been utilized off-the-air. Or relegated to pregame and studio shows.

During Amazon’s coverage of Tagovailoa’s injury Thursday night, play-by-play commentator Al Michaels cited the opinion of “sports medicine consultant” Mike Ryan. But viewers didn’t hear or see Ryan. Instead, his observations about the Dolphin QB’s apparent head trauma — including the scary sight of his hands seizing up in a so-called “fencing response” — were relayed through Michaels. 

Ryan, the former head athletic trainer with the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars, now serves as sports medicine analyst for both TNF and NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” But he’s just on-call for TNF, said sources, not a regular part of the coverage like Rules Analyst Terry McAulay.

ESPN uses senior writer and licensed physical therapist Stephania Bell as its “Injury Analyst.” Bell appears mostly on studio programming such as “SportsCenter,” “NFL Live,” and “Fantasy Football Now.” 

In the wake of Tagovailoa’s injury, ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” pregame show gave Bell a full three minutes Sunday to educate viewers on concussion dangers and testing, noted The Athletic.

Fox is usually the first to try new ideas. A few years back, the network added a medical doctor to pregame programming. But the experiment didn’t last. “It certainly was relevant at the moment,” Crakes said.

Meanwhile, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Adickes has served as medical expert for DirecTV’s Fantasy Zone for the past eight years.

Some of the NFL’s most respected voices are sounding the alarm about injuries, concussions, and potential Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

On “Sunday Night Football,” analyst Tony Dungy said NFL teams must rely on firm neurological tests and protocols rather than heeding the wishes of injured players who claim they’re healthy enough to play.  

Teams playing “Thursday Night Football” should also get a bye week so they don’t have to play twice in four days like the Dolphins, said the Super Bowl-winning coach.

Meanwhile, NBC’s Rodney Harrison implored players to think about their lives after football is over. 

“So, please, I’ll tell you again, please report it if something’s wrong with your head because life after football is serious. Five, 10, 15, 20 years from now, you’re going to feel the effects of CTE,” Harrison warned.

With controversy still raging over the NFL’s treatment of Tagovailoa, a dozen players were removed from games on Sunday under the league’s concussion protocols.

The NFLPA has fired the neurotrauma doctor who misdiagnosed the Tagovailoa’s injury in Week 3 and allowed him to return to the game.

On Monday, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Tagovailoa is still in concussion protocol and will miss this Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.

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