Damar Hamlin and the Painful Humanity of the NFL

The Buffalo Bills gather as an ambulance parks on the field while CPR is administered to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) after a play in the first quarter of the NFL Week 17 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills at Paycor Stadium in Downtown Cincinnati on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023. The game was suspended with suspended in the first quarter after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) was taken away in an ambulance following a play. Buffalo Bills At Cincinnati Bengals Week 17

A 24-year-old man nearly lost his life on a football field just over a week ago. Damar Hamlin, a second-year safety for the Buffalo Bills, collapsed after what seemed like a typical NFL tackle and suffered cardiac arrest. CPR was administered to a young man whose NFL dream was just beginning. 

Due to excellent work by Denny Kellington and the first responders at the stadium, and the medical staff at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Hamlin has turned a miraculous corner, is “neurologically intact,” and is headed home to Buffalo to continue rehabbing. 

Sports, as well as moments of tragedy, provide a microscopic view into the strength of the human spirit. When the two of them are combined, the result can be breathtaking. 

Damar Hamlin
A painting and other items to honor Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin. © Cara Owsley/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Hamlin’s teammates visited the UC Medical Center to attend to their fallen brother while fans held candlelight vigils outside. Dan Orlovsky prayed on live television during ESPN’s NFL Live

Originally tweeted by Trey Bradley (@treybradley3) on Jan 4, 2023.

A GoFundMe for Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation Community Toy Drive originally aimed to raise $2,500. The total proceeds have now succeeded $8.6 million. Prayers have flooded in from random individuals and fans, while different organizations and teams changed social media profile pictures to reflect their organization’s desire and intention to pray for Hamlin. 

Such an unthinkable moment has allowed us to recall why we love football and its power to bind us together. 

Damar Hamlin and the Painful Humanity of the NFL

Being football fans allows us to be a part of a community of individuals, all banded together, rooting for the same thing. And in a small way, we can even be a part of the team that we cheer for by watching their games, purchasing their jerseys, and getting so loud in the stadium that the opposing team is forced to call a timeout. 

On any given Sunday, 1,696 men are allowed to suit up and realize a dream many have had since childhood. As fans of the game of football, we are privileged to participate in that dream — a dream in which Damar Hamlin nearly gave his life while living out.

Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The very nature in which the NFL is discussed and promoted makes it easy for us as fans to forget that the young men who strap on their pads and lace up their cleats every Sunday are just that: young men. However, when our teams and players fail us, we forget that simple fact. 

When our football heroes don’t perform to the level which we deem acceptable, we regress to childish complaining. Our teams will fail us. Our team will lose a big game. Our fantasy stars will come up short in the playoffs. 

No matter how much money they make or how much popularity they imbibe, Monday night in Cincinnati abruptly reminded us that the young men who play this game are fragile human beings just like the rest of us.

A bad thing happened to a good person last Monday. In a world that often seems so divided, sport and tragedy brought together teams, fan bases, and a country to embrace and pray for Damar Hamlin. Because of this tragedy, millions more children will be blessed by his toy drives. Because of this tragedy, millions of Americans have been blessed by witnessing the beauty of resilience in a game that requires so much of it. 

Nyheim Hines runs back the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Patriots. Syndication Democrat And Chronicle

A week has passed, and thankfully, Hamlin is recovering. But what happened last Monday and what has happened since cannot be forgotten. Let’s continue praying for Damar. Let’s continue cheering for his brothers as they take the field to live out their dreams. And let’s continue reminding ourselves how blessed we are to partake in it.

Will is a husband, father of two, and earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He is the co-host of the Load the Box Vikings Podcast with Jordan Hawthorn. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.