We’ve always known football is a violent game.
Gruesome bone breaks, torn ligaments, and traumatic brain injuries have all have long been unfortunate consequences of playing this brutally beautiful sport. Larger and faster-than-normal humans launch into one another at high rates of speed dozens of times a game, 17 games or more a season. An NFL game is shockingly fast and hard-hitting. Watching on television doesn’t do it justice.
At field level, it’s a minor miracle someone isn’t carted off the field every game.
On Monday night in Cincinnati, the entire NFL community held its horrified breath as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed to the ground after tackling wide receiver Tee Higgins in what originally appeared to be one of the most normal plays one would see in a regular season contest.
It turned out to be one of the most frightening moments in professional American sports history.
Medical personnel from all corners of Paycor Stadium streamed to the fallen Hamlin and immediately began attending to his condition. They performed chest compressions on the 24-year-old safety and administered electrical shocks via a defibrillator that, according to the Buffalo Bills, re-started his heart.
As an ambulance loaded Hamlin to take him directly to a local hospital, crying players and shell-shocked fans tried to make sense of what happened. We’ve seen some pretty awful things happen on a football field before, but this felt different.
It looked for a moment as if we witnessed someone die on the field right in front of us.
As someone who watched a co-worker once collapse in front of him with what turned out to be a massive heart attack, I can tell you it’s not something anyone should ever have to see. And I’ll always wonder, had I known CPR or how our office defibrillator worked, whether it would have been enough to save my co-worker’s life.
Thankfully, in Hamlin’s case, that did not happen. Instead, he is alive, albeit in critical condition at a Cincinnati hospital, although reports indicate his vitals have returned to normal. There is real hope the young man is going to survive this. Whether there will be any long-term health implications remains to be seen, and everyone waits with bated breath for further updates. But there is one thing we can say for certain about the tragedy that unfolded on Monday night.
The medical staff on hand may have saved a life.
We need to do more to appreciate the medical personnel on hand at NFL games. Whether employed by the teams or outside personnel there to provide medical help in some other capacity, the first responders, doctors and other medical staff that attend every game do yeoman's work. They are there for the minor scrapes, bruises and cuts that must be dealt with, the more common sports injuries that can sideline a player for a few plays, as well as the major injuries that require gentle care and dedication.
The NFL has come under a lot of heat the last two seasons for multiple instances in which their concussion protocols appear not to have been followed. They were destroyed earlier this season when Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa was cleared to return to a game after being evaluated for a possible head injury and then was allowed to take the field just four days later on a Thursday night in Cincinnati against the Bengals. He would suffer an even more egregious head injury in that game.
More work to be done to tighten up the league’s concussion protocol, but that should not cast a negative light on the work being done by those whose job it is to keep players safe. As we saw on Monday night, the response by the medical staff on site probably saved Hamlin’s life.
So as you think about and pray for Damar Hamlin today, stop for a minute and offer up an appreciation for the doctors, nurses, physical therapists, X-ray techs, and other first responders who jumped into action on Monday night. And consider learning CPR yourself. Find out if your office has a defibrillator on hand. If they do, learn how to use it. If they don’t, urge them to get one.
There are teachable moments and things we can learn to appreciate that emerge from tragedy. Here’s hoping these are some.