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This week’s Monday Night Football game seemed important. Until it didn’t matter at all.
Very quickly, the contest between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals became something much more significant than wins and losses. It became a matter of life and death.
When 24-year-old Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed in the first quarter, suffering what the team has since said was cardiac arrest, the football game didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was Hamlin’s health.
Paramedics rushed to him on the field. He received CPR and oxygen, and was taken by ambulance to University of Cincinnati Hospital, where he remained in critical condition as of Wednesday morning. The game was temporarily suspended and then eventually called off, at least for the week. That was the only decision to make in this horrifying situation.
“Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in the Buffalo Bills’ game versus the Cincinnati Bengals,” the Bills said in a statement in the early hours of Tuesday morning. “His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.”
Tuesday night, Hamlin’s uncle Dorrian Glenn said he remained in critical condition and on a ventilator.
“I know he’s still here, I know he’s fighting,” Glenn told ESPN. A family friend and spokesperson said Wednesday that Hamlin has made “some positive steps in the right direction.”
In a game that is used to violent collisions and injuries, Monday night was something different.
“No one’s been through this,” former NFL quarterback Troy Aikman said on the TV broadcast. “I’ve never seen anything like it, either.”
Ryan Clark, a former NFL safety and current ESPN analyst, experienced his own health scare years ago as a player when he had to have his spleen and gallbladder removed due to complications with a sickle cell trait during a game at high altitude in Denver, Colorado. Even with that history, Monday night was rattling for Clark, as it was for everyone else watching.
“It’s the most afraid I’ve ever been watching a football game,” Clark said Monday night about Hamlin’s situation.
The outpouring of support and prayers for Hamlin have been overwhelming. His family released a statement Tuesday morning.
“On behalf of our family, we want to express our sincere gratitude for the love and support shown to Damar during this challenging time. We are deeply moved by the prayers, kind words and donations from fans around the country,” the Hamlin family said. “We also want to acknowledge the dedicated first responders and healthcare professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who have provided exceptional care to Damar. We feel so blessed to be part of the Buffalo Bills organization and to have their support. We also want to thank Coach Taylor and the Bengals for everything they’ve done. Your generosity and compassion mean the world to us. Please keep Damar in your prayers. We will release updates as soon as we have them.”
With all of the focus on the health of Hamlin’s heart, we’ve also learned more about the strength of his heart and the ways he helps others. If there is any solace to be found in, it is how America has been better introduced to Hamlin and his commitment to others — and the way people have now rallied around that commitment.
The human impact of an effort like that, like the human impact of a medical situation like Hamlin’s, are more important than any game. This is one of those moments that forces us to look around and take stock of what really matters.
“Life is bigger than football,” Hamlin told reporters earlier this season after a teammate was injured.
Those words are hauntingly powerful now. People across America are joining Hamlin in that recognition, and hoping that the same strength that helped him achieve his football dreams will now help protect what really matters — his life.