clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Buffalo Bills S Damar Hamlin managing a “rollercoaster of emotions” at training camp

Hamlin Island is back in business — at his pace and his tempo

NFL: Buffalo Bills Training Camp Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

When the pads went back on this week during Buffalo Bills training camp at St. John Fisher University, safety Damar Hamlin was ready for what was certain to be an emotional moment.

Damar Hamlin’s journey has been like no NFL player before him. He’s not the first to experience cardiac arrest during a game. Unfortunately, the late Chuck Hughes — a wide receiver with the Detroit Lions — lost his life on the field following cardiac arrest. Hamlin is the first NFL player to live to tell about his near-death experience, what little he’s able to recall. And he’s pressed to speak about that life-changing moment on a daily basis.

Press conferences and Hamlin’s “Rollercoaster of emotions”

As we learned last season, trauma manifests itself in myriad ways, and can show up at any time — days, months, or years later. It’s likely that Damar Hamlin repeatedly endures trauma as he embraces the subject everyone in the world wants to discuss with him. Like the NFL safety he is, Hamlin takes on the task as the last line of defense protecting his emotions — and it’s reasonable to believe he’s become a stronger person, having repeatedly suited up for a battle that’s consumed so much of him, on-field and off.

But like so much else in life, Hamlin was ready to conquer it.

Following Monday’s practice, Hamlin spoke for over 20 minutes with the assembled media. The first question lobbed his way pertained to the emotions of being back in pads in a full-contact setting. “Aah man, it feels amazing. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. I was kinda all over the place you know, just kinda being back for the first time.”

Perhaps the unlikeliest of Bills celebrities as a depth safety behind stars Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, Hamlin now dons the hat of public figure, strange as that may sound. After much of the world watched the most traumatic event of Hamlin’s life unfold on live television, his story has captured the hearts of tens of millions.

Beyond the weight of his new-found public image, Hamlin has taken on the role as an ambassador for cardiac arrest care. Away from the field, Hamlin continues working to increase access to life-saving measures such as CPR-certified training, and expanding the availability of equipment such as AEDs to local youth sports leaders around the country. It’s a role Hamlin’s embraced since he opened his eyes, surrounded by loved ones at University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Surviving cardiac arrest is by itself incredible, and doing so while avoiding debilitating side effects such as “neurologic dysfunction, brain injury, disorders of consciousness, neurocognitive deficits, changes in quality of life, as well as physical and psychological wellbeing” are all very real hurdles for nearly every survivor. Hamlin, miraculously, appears to have cleared every single one of those hurdles.

On Monday, he cleared yet another massive hurdle in suiting up for his first exposure to full-contact football since that fateful night this past January. When asked of challenge he faced in suiting up Monday Hamlin simply said it was “a super big hurdle, as you can imagine. You know what I’m saying? I pretty much lost my life playing this sport. You know what I’m saying? So to come back and do it all over again... it’s a, it’s just... it’s all over the place.

In speaking with reporters, it’s clear that Hamlin is focused and prepared for the 2023 NFL season. “I’ve got goals that I still want to achieve within this game, you know. And football teaches you so much about yourself. It teaches you so much about life — you learn so much about yourself through the game,” said Hamlin, sounding driven and motivated to succeed as ever. “Honestly... what bigger challenge? It’s a challenge, you know — so I’m embracing it.”

It didn’t take long for someone to ask him about the mental aspect of hitting the field in full pads. “It was tough, you know — just first day in pads, but just trying to keep everything as normal as possible. Just having my family there today... that was like that joy, that brightness just to keep everything in perspective, you know that, that, that — you know I’m gonna be okay.”

Damar Hamlin has become an incredible leader and motivator for the Bills, and his constant pursuit of perspective in all situations is one of the keys to his leadership on the field and in the locker room. “I always like to see the world bigger than myself and outside of myself. You know, everybody that’s (hitting the) field is going through something mentally, whether you know it or not. So, you know... I keep that in perspective as well, regardless of the situation or how in-depth it might be. But, you know everybody’s going through their own situation, so I keep that in perspective, and I try to uplift everybody around me, as well.”

“I made my decision, and I’m living with it.”

Despite the logos, the uniform, the sweat, and the seemingly unending football-related activities going on around the table where Hamlin was seated, there existed a palpable urge among reporters to find out just how hesitant, if at all, he was to continue playing football.

“Man, this is football. You can’t hit that field with no hesitation. You know what I’m saying? You put yourself in more danger by doing that. So like I said, I made the choice to play, you know. But I’m processing a thousand emotions. You know, I’m not afraid to say that it crosses my mind you know — being a little scary here and there. But like I say, my strength is rooted in faith and my faith is stronger than any fear.”

But about those goals Hamlin has for himself as a professional football player?

“Right now, my goal is just one day at a time. You know, even my big goals. Honestly, I can’t even focus on them right now. So my goal is just one day at a time. Just coming out to practice, focusing on one period, one second, one play, one step at a time, honestly. So my big goals... I can’t even mention them right now because I’ll be in the wrong headspace even thinking about them. You know thinking that far down the line it kinda — it, it , it, makes me not lose focus but it puts emotions inside me that I don’t even need to be dealing with or processing right now. So as long as I stay one day at a time, one step at a time, one second at a time, one meeting at a time, you know... I stay in the right headspace. My mindset right now is just being ready for the Buffalo Bills whenever they need me.”

A family core that grounds and centers

Through it all, Hamlin’s strong family bond has meant the world to him (evidenced by the way he lights up when family is mentioned), and allowed him to tackle anything standing in the way of his goals.

“You know, we overcame a lot my entire life, so this is just another milestone on that journey. It might be one of the biggest ones, but it’s just another milestone on the journey — a hurdle that we’ve overcame. That’s kind of been our story all along if you check the receipts.”

Certainly one can sympathize with those moments Hamlin goes through where he wishes he was allowed to process and privately regain his previous playing form. But Hamlin knows that’s not his reality, and he’s using it as an opportunity to lead by example.

“Honestly I would love to do this whole process under a rock. Get myself together and then pop back out when I feel like my best, but I think there’s strength in going through a process in front of everybody’s eyes. It shows vulnerability, it shows strength, it shows perseverance, and (those are) things that I’d love to stand for.”

“An unbelievable amount of courage”

Defensive backs coach John Butler said this of Hamlin’s first full-pad experience post trauma: “Thinking about him you know, as I said last time I talked to you guys... there’s really only ever one person that’s ever gone through this, and that’s him.” Butler recognizes the huge weight that accompanies Hamlin on his return to the gridiron saying, “it’s great to see him out there and fighting that battle and his courage is unmatched, just considering what he went through.”

Butler went on to speak of Hamlin’s character throughout everything that’s happened, stating “I think it just displays an unbelievable amount of courage” for Hamlin to persevere in his battle surrounded by the NFL’s enormous stage. “And now to see him categorically kind of going through each step, and getting over those hurdles in his own way just shows you again the level of character and courage that he has to put himself out there to expose himself to all the emotions that he’s having.”

Damar Hamlin is a focused man full of perspective and more than enough talent to hurdle every obstacle in his life. Putting on pads for his first full-contact work following commotio cordis is certainly a huge story, but thankfully it’s now just another obstacle left in his dust.