A Community Pulled Together Through Tragedy: Damar Hamlin Changes American Football Forever

History was quickly made in what was expected to be just a playoff game that escalated to a life-or-death situation for one of the Bills’ players, Damar Hamlin.

Courtesy of Denver Post

History was quickly made in what was expected to be just a playoff game that escalated to a life-or-death situation for one of the Bills’ players, Damar Hamlin.

Ever since September of last year, the eyes of the American population have been fixated on the turf-paved fields to watch one of the most prominent customs throughout the United States: football. This long-run tradition has cemented itself deeply in American culture through the passionate fans and players that have idolized the sport over the decades. Comradery has been sewn into teams and their fan bases through devotion that can last a lifetime and a love for the sport that’s undying.

From the Super Bowl all the way to the little league teams full of six-year-olds in pads and helmets, it’s undeniable the presence of football throughout America. Within that presence, though, is a painful possibility, one that was put on display on Monday, Jan. 2. History was quickly made in what was expected to be just a playoff game that escalated to a life-or-death situation for one of the Bills’ players, Damar Hamlin.

This Monday night game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals kicked off as normal, tensions high between the two teams. This far into the season, games such as this are vital in determining the next couple of weeks up to the Super Bowl. Due to the NFL’s tight schedule, every game is lined up like a domino for the rest of the season. Both teams had fought hard, their hard work leading up to this game.

Within the first quarter, though, Hamlin, one of the Bills’ safeties, tackled Bengals’ receiver Tee Higgins to the ground. No alarm bells were raised as Hamlin jumped up on his feet until a few seconds later when he collapsed on the turf. Concern washed over the stadium, quickly replacing the initial shock as players from both teams surrounded Hamlin as medics rushed from the sidelines.

Unprecedented. This was the word used by a match commentator as the cameras switched off the field. Spectators in the stadium and at home were riddled with alarm and confusion as the question of ‘what happened?’ rocked their minds. No one had seen urgency like this from the field before. Typically, the cameras focus in, the player is walked off the field, and the game resumes. However, this wasn’t the case.

In fact, the game would never resume. As the world would soon find out, Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and had CPR administered to him on the field by an assistant trainer, giving him a chance as he was raced to a nearby hospital. He remained in critical condition as the cruel reality settled over more than just the football community. The whole country’s eyes were now on every NFL headline.

Injuries are an unfortunate part of everyday life, from twisted ankles to broken arms, even more typical for sports. But Hamlin’s collapse on the field reminded the world of the vulnerability that we all have. With the advances in modern medicine and technology, we’ve been able to enjoy life less hesitantly. This doesn’t mean that life won’t catch up with us. It’s a terrifying truth that we slowly forgot as the brutality of such a sport as football embedded itself in American culture.

None of this is to say that football is a bad thing. It has brought together people from all across America into passionate, fun-loving communities at a time when the world couldn’t be more divided. It draws crowds from their homes when we’ve all gotten so used to just staying inside. And for those on the field, it is so much more than just a game. Damar Hamlin’s collapse served as a reminder of that as well. 

The country flooded support to Hamlin, his family, friends, and team in the following days after Monday. This tragedy banded together teams and fans from all over, displaying the loving community this sport has fostered over the years. It might’ve instilled a fear within football, but it will be a fear that brings us together. 

The light-hearted spirit that surrounded the sport will still be there. Fans will still devote hours of their time, players will still charge onto the turf, and cheers will still erupt from the stadium with every point scored. Now when a player goes down on the field, there won’t be a moment where the Bills v. Bengals’ game won’t flash through our minds. The stadium will be holding its breath, wondering if the cameras will pan away or watch them get back up. Our morality won’t be forgotten, just as Hamlin won’t. 

As tragic as this story is, it doesn’t end as less than two days after his cardiac arrest, on Saturday, Jan. 7, Hamlin made his first public comments since his collapse. He expressed his thanks to all for the love that he received throughout the week, keeping a positive outlook on the future. While his condition seemed unsteady for a bit, Hamlin is now on his way to recovery.