Sometimes we forget NFL players are human, too. They’re dubbed superhumans, who are perfect. They aren’t. To be fair, these players struggle to hold back tears, laugh by telling hilariously bad jokes and crack smiles. They cope with chronic pain and substance abuse. These are human beings we’re talking about. Too often, we think of them as robots with no feelings, no imperfections, no skeletons in their closets.
A scary, awful scene on Monday struck everybody differently when Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in the first quarter of a nationally televised game against the Cincinnati Bengals after a violent hit. He appeared to get up but then took a few steps back before falling to the ground. It was chilling, frightening and jarring, especially after Hamlin was given CPR for more than 10 minutes and taking off the field in an ambulance. Hamlin, 24, went into a cardiac arrest following his tackle on Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins.
The nation as a whole was shaken by the horrific event. Nights, like Monday, was different. You could see it in the distraught expressions of the players, who started crying, sobbing into towels. You could feel it in the confusion of the players, who dropped to their knees and gathered in prayer as medical officials tended to Hamlin. Bills coach Sean McDermott and Bengals coach Zac Taylor met on the field to discuss the situation. The NFL ultimately made the correct call. The game was temporarily suspended, and eventually was postponed, as it should have.
It was tough to be a fan or a player on this particularly night when someone’s life became bigger than football. There was no reason why the game should have continued, even if this was a much-anticipated matchup with playoff ramifications. More concerning, perhaps, was Hamlin’s health and safety. There was no talk of football. There was no discussion to be had about resuming play. None of that mattered. More to the point: This was a young man whose heart stopped. His heartbeat was restored on the field and after he was transferred to UC Medical Center for further testing and treatment. Playing a game was the last thing on the minds of the players and coaches.
The horror that we saw on this night was something we’ve never seen before. It was stunning, spine-chilling. Hamlin wasn’t carried onto a cart, as he left, nor did he give the thumbs-up. This unprecedented moment in real time should be a teachable moment. And what happened in Cincinnati was a matter of life and death. If this night was illustrative of the real danger football poses, then it reminded us of not only how precious life truly is but how fans really take NFL players for granted.
How quickly a shocking moment triggered these thoughts and put a perspective on life, and in the wake of a tragedy, we have to be reminded that they’re more than just football players. They have kids who call them dads and wives who call them husbands. But when you’re an NFL player, you get treated like a God, not a human being. However, Hamlin’s health scare brought us back to reality. As Monday showed, for everybody watching, this could happen to any of them. Football is a dangerous game these men are playing, and there are repercussions from the nasty hits they absorb that we often celebrate.
The Hamlin injury is being felt most sharply by an army of NFL players who are willing to sacrifice their health and lives and put their bodies in harm’s way for our entertainment. The scary incident is just the latest in a continuing series of crises that have served as a brutal reminder of the risk of serious injuries in America’s most preeminent sport. Plenty of fierce criticism was directed at the NFL. It was a hot topic. Social media blew up within minutes in the athletic arena. Since then, the nation has come together for prayer in support of Hamlin.
Given what we’ve seen and what we know, the NFL should consider implementing changes to better protect the players. The league needs to get its hands around the problem by reexamining the protection of player health and well-being. It needs to think about how it handles player safety and get its priorities set, and set straight, and always be ready for the worst. The time is right. The time is now.
A lot of times we don’t think of NFL players as living beings. When our beloved athletes play, they look almost invincible. There’s a lot of people who think of athletes as someone who harnesses superpowers, but they are people, who, just like millions and millions of ordinary folks, deserve our love, respect, care, appreciation and gratitude. They are paid well and given the ability to build generational wealth for their families, but with what these guys have to endure, playing this sport comes with a price.
Players crumble to the ground from hits. Then, they get treated on the field by the training staff during the game. Depending on the severity of the injury, they get carted off the field or leave and enter the blue tent.
Football is a brutal business, and always will be. And, sadly enough, in the most unimaginable way at the most difficult of times, a player almost dies on the field. Thank God, Hamlin is alive. Plenty of people have helped engendered a great sense of humanity. It’s seemingly there — the humanity, the compassion and positive vibes. The hearts and hopes of America surely remains with Hamlin.
We are human.