We’ve all heard the saying from NFL players through the years, “I would die for this game.” It’s the “warrior’s mentality.” That phrase is often said with players keeping in mind that they could be injured on any given play. The roots of the saying are barbaric. And, yet, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin nearly died on an NFL field on Monday Night Football.
The general viewing audience of football games has been well-versed in players going limp on a football field. Knockout blows and serious head injuries were celebrated in YouTube montages as late as the early 2010s. The NFL was rampant with players “posturing” because of a blow so critical to the head that it shuts the body’s function down momentarily.
That’s what many were attributing Hamlin’s injury Monday night to as well. That same posturing position was visualized by players, fans in the stands, and viewers on television. But the horrific reactions of Bills players, of course, led all to believe that this was something much more dire than any we’ve seen in decades of NFL football.
Hamlin’s heart had stopped, and he subsequently lost his pulse on one of the biggest stages in American sports. How quickly we all realize just how real this sport is.
The man who nearly died on the field last Monday is far more than just a player. He’s a person — a man who started the “Chasing M’s Foundation” when he was still in college just hoping he’d one day realize his dream as an NFL player. Players who tend to start foundations don’t realize that startup until they’re already in the league making millions of dollars. It’s a sense of positive publicity seemingly recommended by an agent to accrue positive reenforcement as they pursue a long career in the NFL.
But Damar Hamlin was upstarting a toy drive back in 2020. He was still months and months away from realizing his NFL dream. But, still, he was focused on giving back to his native community of McKees Rocks long before the Buffalo Bills selected him in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. We recognize Hamlin’s humanity in all of this. NFL players are often larger-than-life figures on a screen showcased for their ability to make plays on a football field. Damar Hamlin is a good human.
As a college player, Hamlin was always a clear leader at Pitt. He held down the backend of his defense and was rewarded as a team captain for the Panthers. Despite all of the accolades for Hamlin in college and the work he was doing off the field, he was a sixth-round pick in the NFL fighting tooth and nail for a roster spot — all while making very little salaried money in contrast to the rest of the league.
Hamlin has passed every test in his NFL career. He’s won over roster spots each of his first two seasons. He’s played a starting role in nearly every game in 2022 after star safety Micah Hyde went down with an injury early on that ended his season. Hamlin still plays with that tenacity each and every play that he did in college. He’s won over his teammates and the entire country for who he is and what he represents as a human being. Not just a player. Grown NFL players on a football field don’t cry for great players. They cry for great humans. That’s what we saw last Monday in what proved to be one of the most striking scenes in the league’s history.
It remains to be seen whether Hamlin will ever play football again. It’s seemingly a road to recovery that will require a multitude of hurdles to be cleared in order to reach that point. But the 24 year old is awake, speaking, and back on social media after being on the brink of death less than a week ago.
Damar Hamlin’s journey didn’t start with the Bills. You’ll see the No. 3 jerseys and pictures of him in red and white plastered across the league in the foreseeable future. Hamlin had to earn that number with the team — starting as No. 31 his rookie season. Damar was doing more when he didn’t always hold the spotlight. That holds true as a player and a person. Buffalo’s red and blue has an iconic resonance. But think of Hamlin before that all started. He was wearing blue and yellow for his hometown college.
Week 18 of the 2022 NFL season should long be remembered as the celebration of a miracle for Damar Hamlin. A good human being was saved in front of a national audience. The unforgiving nature of the NFL has nudged us all into a fog — forgetting the humanity of this sport altogether. Let this situation be a lesson to remind ourselves that football is a game — a very dangerous game. The underlying nature is scary. It’s wrong in so many ways. And, yet, the majority who read this piece will recognize their love for the game. The humanity in it all is what cannot be forgotten.