It’s never going to par out with the Kennedy Assassination or the attack on the World Trade Centers, but I anticipate that MNF fans will long remember Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field during the game on Monday, January 2nd. By Tuesday, even non-football fans had heard the news of the extraordinary injury that caused his heart to effectively stop beating.
After tackling Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins in what looked like a very routine play, Buffalo’s defender got up fairly quickly. He took two or three shuffling, hesitant steps and then fell backwards to the ground. Most of the players had started walking back to their huddles, unaware that he had even collapsed. At first, training staff responded in their usual custom. In the next several minutes, it emerged that this was not a routine incident.
It’s the first time in over fifty years of watching football that I had ever seen, or even heard of, an ambulance coming directly onto the field during an NFL game. Also the only time I’m aware of CPR being administered to a player on the field of play.
Here on this third day following, there is still no indication as to what permanent damage Damar Hamlin may have suffered. According to the latest news reports I’ve found, he’s still on a breathing machine and still sedated in ICU. His uncle, Dorrian Glenn, reportedly told CNN on Tuesday, “They resuscitated him on the field before they brought him to the hospital and then they resuscitated him a second time when they got him to the hospital.”
It is not surprising that both teams, fans from all around the league, and people from all over the country have expressed their concern and support in various ways. Millions are praying and millions of dollars have been donated to his toys for children charity cause. At game time Monday evening, the fund had not yet reached twenty-five hundred dollars. Less than forty-eight hours later, it’s over six million.
Those who love Damar, especially his family, are experiencing a deeply personal tragedy and wrestling with fears and hurts that thousands of others have endured. Their faith and character are being deeply revealed within them. Intensely personal and yet global. It remains to be seen what additional challenges they and Damar will face.
Innumerable tragic incidents occur each day in obscure villages, vast urban centers, and isolated rural areas. It is only when they involve celebrities, unusual scale, or surpassing shock value that they become international news. The pain and tragedy are not measured by Nielsen ratings.
The first indication that I had of this incident’s uniqueness was in the reactions of the players on the field. I’ve seen plays that resulted in players becoming partially paralyzed. I’ve seen plays that caused broken limbs. I’ve seen plays that left players momentarily unconscious. It’s always concerning and often reflected in the somber expressions and kneeling postures of their teammates.
In the aftermath of Monday’s incident, while medics and trainers administered CPR to Damar, the players’ reactions exceeded anything I’d ever witnessed: shock, agonizing grief, deep concern. Many of these hardened gridiron warriors sobbed openly and hugged one another in long embraces. As they walked about or stood in shocked silence, many clearly mouthed earnest prayers. They held hands and prayed together. They knelt in a large huddle and prayed some more.
Suddenly, there were no longer two teams engaged in intense competition in a game that seemed ten minutes earlier to be monumentally important with crucial playoff implications for both the Bills and the Bengals. With absolutely no pun intended, that had all changed in just a heartbeat.
The image that will stay with me at least as long as the sight of Damar’s collapse was of the Bills’ huge Mitch Morris (who looks like a Viking warrior) towering above, yet calmly and tenderly comforting cornerback Tre’Davious White while he sobbed against the lineman’s chest.
In the midst of just another game, the illusions of strength and athleticism suddenly morphed, and we were reminded once again how closely we walk to the chasm of calamity. And how universal our shared mortality.
After the immediacy of response, and in the ensuing aftermath, we may resume plodding along unchanged. But surely we are not unaffected.