Damar Hamlin injury changes perception of NFL


Hamlin pictured outside his mural in Buffalo. Posted on @HamlinIsland on Twitter.

Denise Meads, Reporter

The Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals was set to be the biggest game of the NFL regular season, but it quickly turned into the league’s biggest nightmare. On Monday night of January 2nd, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin tackled Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tee Higgins early in the 1st quarter. Hamlin was able to stand up and take a few steps following the play but then quickly collapsed. As the watchers later learned, Hamlin had suffered from cardiac arrest, CPR was then administered and his heartbeat was restored on the field by Buffalo Bills medical personnel. Hamlin was taken by ambulance to University of Cincinnati Medical Center 16 minutes after his collapse. Each team was told to briefly return to their locker rooms to make a decision to continue play or not. After roughly an hour passed, the NFL rightfully canceled the game.

Following the cancellation of the game, the NFL reported an update that Damar Hamlin was still receiving care at University of Cincinnati Medical Center but remained in critical condition. This chilling and unprecedented scene at Paycor Stadium gave players, fans, and people all around the world the harsh reality and seriousness of the NFL. NFL players go out and risk their lives daily, and Hamlin’s state of health mattered more than anything to everyone. 

The NFL and its referees have faced lots of backlash this season with their lack of concern for player safety. One notable injury this year happened to Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa against the Bills early this season. Tagovailoa was hit by Bills linebacker Matt Milano. Milano was called for roughing the passer and Tagovailoa was visibly rattled by the hit. Despite his response, Tagovailoa was able to finish the game and play against the Bengals the next week. In that game, Tagovailoa was slammed by Bengals lineman Josh Tupou and demonstrated yet another scary response. It was then that he was finally placed in concussion protocol. Later in the season, New England Patriots receiver DeVante Parker suffered a head injury against the Arizona Cardinals that went unnoticed by officials once again. Parker’s teammate, Nelson Agholor, had to demand to stop the game in order for Parker to get checked by medical personnel. These are only two injuries of the numerous that went unnoticed throughout the season. 

All injuries in the NFL need to be quickly addressed like Hamlin’s injury. The outcome of Monday night, January 2nd, could have been very different without the quickness and work of the Buffalo Bills medical team. All medical teams need to mirror the work of the Bills medical team and be able to quickly identify and take action in a time where life or death is at stake. The NFL is more than a game. These are people’s everyday lives. 

From Tuesday, January 3rd and further, Hamlin progressed at an accelerated pace and was then upgraded to stable. Hamlin continually received an outpour of love from around the league but questions regarding football and the safety of it still loomed. On Friday, January 6th, owners from the American Football Conference met and agreed on adjustments for the AFC playoffs. It was too late to reschedule the Bills-Bengals game, therefore the playoffs were affected. They approved that if the two teams involved in the AFC Championship game had an uneven amount of games played, the game will be played at a neutral sight due to the Bills-Bengals game holding seeding implications. This was the best case scenario since it does not help or hurt either team. 

The NFL honored Hamlin in the last week of the NFL regular season with an announcement about his health, teams outlined the number 3 on the field with Buffalo Bills blue or red and wore “For Damar ” t-shirts in team warmups. The Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals all won their regular season finales, which made the Chiefs the number one seed since they played more games, the Bills the number two seed and the Bengals the number three seed.

On Sunday, January 22nd, there was a rematch between the Bills and Bengals since both won their Wild Card Games the previous week, this time it took place in Buffalo due to higher seeding. Hamlin was in attendance with good spirits and even though the Bills lost, the game had a better outcome than the last time they met. The Chiefs won their divisional game as well against the Jacksonville Jaguars which means the new playoff adjustments do not come into play.  The AFC Championship was this past Sunday between the Bengals and Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, since the Bengals finished 2 games behind the Chiefs in the regular season. The Bengals lost to the Chiefs on a last-second field goal. This means the Chiefs will play the Philadelphia Eagles from the National Football Conference in Super Bowl 57 on Sunday, February 12th at 6:30 p.m.

Although the NFL did the best they could for such an unprecedented incident, the Hamlin injury should be a wake up call to prioritize players safety. There have been too many instances of injured players being able to play due to lack of completing proper protocols given by medical staff. The NFL and all those associated need to be proactive rather than reactive because football is more than entertainment, it is a person’s life.