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Damar Hamlin and the Delicate Balance of Football

A moment where the sports world stood still and humanity took over

Image Credit: Buffalo Bills via Twitter

This week we saw the worst nightmare of every football fan take place: a player collapsing on the field in need of immediate emergency medical attention. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin made what looked like a routine tackle only to get up and collapse to the ground immediately. This was a moment where the sports world stopped and for a brief moment thought about their fellow man. The fans in Cincinnati, Ohio came in unison to pray for the well-being of a young 24-year-old man that was living his dreams. And as Damar continues to fight for his life, we are reminded just how violent this game is and how much we take for granted when we watch these athletes perform every Sunday.

Violent by Design

In the past, I have compared the way that we love and consume the game of American football as an audience to the way that ancient Romans consumed the gladiator games. Fans crave violence and there is a satisfaction that people have to see a big hit just as much as seeing a leaping touchdown catch in the corner of the endzone. It is the same reason that people over the years have been fascinated with combat sports like boxing and mixed martial arts. There is a certain appetite for controlled violence.

So often when we watch NFL games and see these hits that have become routine in our minds we think nothing of them. We understand that these are world-class athletes exerting themselves every weekend for our enjoyment. But what we have forgotten is just how dangerous these games are. Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest from a rare condition known as Commotio Cordis. This is not a typical injury suffered on the football field, but it illustrates the delicate balance that these athletes risk every week to entertain fans.

Over the years, we have seen some gruesome injuries on the football field. Recently we saw former QB Alex Smith break his leg during a game and almost lose the ability to walk as a result of it. We have seen the impact of repeated head trauma on players which has resulted in the understanding of the effects of CTE. These players enter the field of play with the understanding that their bodies are on the line, to play a game that they love.

This is what Damar Hamlin was doing, he was fulfilling his dreams and playing in the biggest game of his young career. He like all other players knows the risk of this game. But there is a passion that comes with playing this game at such a high level, and we as an audience sometimes forget that these are human beings. People will get mad when a player gets injured and it hurts their fantasy team or causes their favorite team to lose a game. We forget that these are human beings that are dealing with massive expectations and coping with the pressure to perform. This week, we were reminded of the human element and the fragility that comes with this game. But not everyone has had this moment of empathy.

Driving the Agenda

Humans as a whole are not a uniform entity. For the good in man, we are subjected to the ugly side as well. And this tragic accident with Damar Hamlin is no exception. There are people in the anti-vaccine school of thought that have taken this tragic accident as an excuse to spread their theories about the perceived long-term harmfulness of the COVID-19 vaccine. Regardless of your stance on the vaccines, the fact that people took a situation where a young man is fighting for his life as a platform to further their agenda is disgusting.

There have been others (such as notable opinionist Skip Bayless) who have wondered about the NFL playoff implications of the game between Buffalo and Cincinnati. This is again a moment of disregarding the human element of the game that we watch and enjoy. In the grand scheme of things, the outcome of the game or the NFL regular season standings means little to nothing when a player is fighting for his life.

To me, the reaction of these people indicates a lack of humanity when it comes to football players. These people view athletes as tools for their entertainment, much as the ancient Romans viewed the gladiators. As we hope for Damar Hamlin’s recovery, it is important that we also remember that we are capable of empathy as human beings and that this is a man whose life hangs in the balance.

And to the credit of many, we have seen some empathy. We saw fans of the Bills and Bengals together, visiting the hospital where Damar was admitted in solidarity. We have seen a rush of donations to Damar’s charity, which have tallied over $6 million. This was a moment when the sports world stopped momentarily, and we all took a moment to realize the impact of this game that we love so much. All 32 NFL franchises have changed their profile pictures on Twitter with a message of solidarity for Damar Hamlin, an indication of the brotherhood of football and its importance to teams and players alike.

Damar Hamlin is one of the good guys in this league, an ambitious and giving young man. A player that was seeing his dreams being realized on the biggest stage for one of the league's best teams. At this moment, we are all Damar Hamlin fans, and all we want is for him to have a speedy recovery. This game and life are such a delicate balance and we were reminded of this on Monday night. As Bill FB Reggie Gilliam said in the wake of the injury, “the whole nation is behind you, 3”. We truly are.


If you are interested in donating to Damar Hilman’s charity, the Chasing M’s Foundation, you can visit the GoFundMe page HERE

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