Damar Hamlin: The Traumatic Collapse That Shocked The World
It was a normal tackle, a normal hit, a normal moment in a big football game, one of the biggest of the season. A nationally televised Monday night matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, two of the NFL’s hottest teams. Over 65,000 were packed into Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati ready to see a grudge match in primetime. What they witnessed, along with everyone on the field, was truly shocking.
There were just under six minutes to play in the opening quarter, with the Bengals driving down the field holding a 7-3 lead on the Bills. Second & 3 on the Cincinnati 39-yard line, Quarterback Joe Burrow fired a quick slant to wideout Tee Higgins and was brought down by Bills safety Damar Hamlin. Hamlin stood up, took a breath, and collapsed to the floor backward, legs limp and feet splayed; his heart had stopped. Players on both sides frantically called for help and formed a wall around Hamlin so the supporters didn’t witness what was going on. Things went from bad to worse as medical professionals rushed in and performed CPR, using a defibrillator to get his heart beating again. Players cried, knelt, and held hands for prayer. Finally, a traumatic sixteen minutes after he collapsed, Hamlin was taken by ambulance to U.C. Medical Center in downtown Cincinnati, where he remains still today. The coaches met, gathered their players, and headed to the locker room. The game was postponed and later announced to be canceled, not to be played for the remainder of the season.
The mentality of football is to play on. A player breaks his leg, is carted off, and the game goes on. A player is concussed, stumbles off, and the game goes on. Football is downright violent. Violence is built-in into the sport, in fact, a feature of it. It is part of the stakes, the thrill, the intensity. And yet, there is a line, one that is almost inconceivable, even to the men who accept the risks and the fans who celebrate them for it. it. On Monday the 2nd, the line was crossed. It was clear from the faces of the players and the coaches; there was little thought of continuing. How do you resume play after you’ve seen such a traumatic event occur in front of you in real-time? That question, of course, invites another: how do you ever resume play after you’ve seen such a traumatic event? The thing that matters most right now is Hamlin’s life. Then comes the mental and emotional health of those who care for him and those who saw him fall, a circle now so large that his fund-raiser for a Pittsburgh area toy drive raised more than $3M dollars overnight, from more than a hundred thousand donors. All across social media, in stadiums across the country, teams posted the #3, signifying their thoughts and prayers for the Hamlin family.
About a decade ago, the N.F.L. came under intense scrutiny because of the devastating effects of head trauma, and there seemed to be a sea change in the way football was perceived. There were front-page newspaper stories, lawsuits, congressional investigations, and even a Will Smith movie. There were also domestic-violence scandals, stories about addiction to painkillers, and social justice, and yet the sport’s popularity has been almost undiminished. In the past ten years, the N.F.L. has fought tooth and nail to make the game safer. There are new rules, new techniques, and new equipment. No one in the league ever wants to see something like what happened to Hamlin last Monday night.
Football can change; it has happened before. At the turn of the 20th c., players died on the football field with startling frequency. When a Union College player died after being kicked in the head while trying to tackle a New York University player, there was a movement to outlaw the sport. President Teddy Roosevelt was among those who pushed to save football by changing it. Just this past summer, before the Little League World Series, 12-year-old Easton Oliverson fell from his bunk bed in the middle of the night.
Hamlin throughout the week had shown significant strides of improvement, persevering, and fighting his way through every operation. From being put on a ventilator pumping 100% oxygen, to breathing through a tube, Hamlin has gotten better and better each day. This past Friday his tube was removed and reached out via FaceTime to the Buffalo Bills organization. Of course, Hamlin’s first question was, “Did we win”?
On the final week of the NFL Regular season, each stadium held a moment of silence and spray painted the 3 in 30 yard-line signifying Hamlin’s jersey number. The Buffalo Bills returned home and captured another AFC East division title in a victory over the New England Patriots. Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott spoke in regards to Hamlin after the game. “Demar is unselfish and is such a great person. Everywhere you look, you see pictures of Damar and he’s got such a special smile and that twinkle in his eye when he looks and he smiles and just brightens up an entire room. He’s just a special person and so it doesn’t surprise me that he would think of others before thinking of himself,” he said.