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Jordy’s Journal: The good and the bad of the Damar Hamlin incident

As of Wednesday morning, Hamlin remains in critical condition in ICU, showing signs of improvement
The Buffalo Bills pray on the field after their teammate Damar Hamlin was taken to hospital after suffering cardiac arrest. (@BuffaloBills/Twitter)

Jordy Cunningham is a reporter for Kelowna Capital News.

On Monday night, the sports world witnessed one of the scariest things to ever happen on a field.

In the Monday Night Football game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, Bills safety Damar Hamlin made a tackle that looked innocent enough, and he didn’t hit his head. However, after the play, the 24-year-old got up and immediately collapsed back to the ground. An incredibly important game for the standings and playoff seeding all of a sudden was irreverent.

Both teams huddled around and were visibly shaken up as Hamlin was given CPR and AED on the field for a reported nine minutes. He was taken to the local Cincinnati hospital where he’s currently in critical condition as it was announced he suffered cardiac arrest. It hasn’t been announced what caused it to happen.

The family was there, and were able to run on the field to be there and be transported to the hospital with him.

Now for sports in general, this is an absolutely unprecedented situation and for the most part, it was incredibly impressive how it was handled.

Let’s start with the bad though. I’m an NFL fan but in classic NFL fashion, they handled this situation the worst on Monday night, by trying to get the players back playing right away and taking an hour to postpone the game. It’s obviously not a good look for the league when the players and coaches have to get together and say they’re not playing and decide to go back to the locker rooms. The league came out and said they didn’t make the request for the game to continue right away, maybe it was the referees, we can’t say for sure. Also it took the league an hour to officially postpone the game when a man was literally dead on the field briefly. It shouldn’t have even been a question, the game should have been suspended a lot faster than it was. In the moment and all around, it was a bad look for the NFL.

The look of the league has got better over the last couple days with every team sharing the same avatar on Twitter and doing much more to show their support.

Now when this happened, I watched the coverage from the moment it started and it was truly incredible. Every one of those broadcasters and analysts, who are some of the best in the business, stepped their game up to another level of professionalism that was outstanding and moving and should be shown in journalism classes going forward.

ESPN’s game broadcasters of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman had to keep trying to update the situation when there was nothing to really update about, leaving them in an incredibly tough position and they were great in how they handled the situation.

But there was also former players-turned-analysts breaking down on camera as they try to explain what had happened and trying to explain the realism of the situation. When it happened, you can see players on both teams crying on the field, scared, not knowing what to do. These guys spend more time with their teammates than they do their own families. On SportsCenter, that was explained in a way that was so powerful to give fans a better understanding and how in the moment, football doesn’t matter because this is a man’s life that’s on the line.

The coverage went on all night as reporters went from the field to the hospital, trying to get as much information as they could. One of the Buffalo players even took an Uber to the field after the game was postponed and a police officer wouldn’t let him in. One of the two ESPN reporters on site had to explain to the officer that the player plays for the Bills and was there for his teammate. It was truly a unique situation that and every single broadcaster and reporter handled incredibly.

Of course the fans in attendance were greatly affected, whether they were at the stadium or watching on television as people just didn’t know what was going on or what to do in the moment really. But there was a constant throughout the night that I think restored people’s faith in humanity a bit and that was Hamlin’s fundraiser.

Hamlin is great at giving back to the community and since 2020, has a GoFundMe page to raise money for a toy drive for his own foundation. This year, the goal he set for $2,500 and the page had $10,000. People and fans took to the page and have donated since the incident to the point where now more than $6 million had been raised to his foundation. It’s incredible how this tragic event has become a positive for humanity with this money being raised.

When this happened on Monday night, everyone was shocked and devastated and is hoping for the best for Hamlin in again, an unprecedented situation. And it got me thinking, what are other examples of something like this happening at this magnitude in sports?

First off I have to start with, how unlucky at the same time is the Cincinnati football stadium? On top of this, two other significant injuries have happened at that field in recent memory. Earlier this season, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fell to the field after taking a hit to the head and dealing with concussion issues and back in 2017, Pittsburgh Steelers Ryan Shazier needed to have spinal stabilization surgery after a hit, in which it took him a year to walk again.

When discussing this in the office, I got reminded of two football incidents before I was born that resulted in players dying on the field: In 1971, wide receiver Chuck Hughes became the first and only player to die on a NFL field and in 1975, CFL linebacker Tom Pate was critically injured on a play, suffered an aneurysm and lost consciousness. He died three days later.

There’s been many incidents of cardiac arrest in hockey over the last 25 years. In the NHL playoffs in 1998, Chris Pronger took a shot to the chest which caused him to collapse on the ice. He suffered Commotio Cordis, which is when cardiac arrest takes place after a strike to the chest. The game wasn’t suspended and kept on playing following the injury. The other examples are Jiri Fischer in 2005, Rich Peverley in 2014, Craig Cunningham in 2016, and Jay Bouwmeester in 2020. They all survived.

In 2021, soccer player Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch and it was discovered he experienced cardiac arrest.

Also in the NHL in 2008, Richard Zednik took a skate to the neck in a game, cutting his carotid artery. The game resumed after it was announced in the stadium that he was in stable condition.

I’m going to stop here but there’s a few other examples I could think of horrific events that have brought games to a halt. Games happen everyday so it seems events like this are rare but they’re a little more common than you think when you think about it.

Sports is a form of entertainment for so many people. They use it as their escape from reality, something that they care about and are invested. People care about their bets and fantasy teams but what people forget is that these athletes are people too. Monday’s incident wasn’t about a player on the Buffalo Bills. It was about a human fighting for his life on the field. This event has shocked the sports world in so many ways but has shown the good in humanity as well. As people and as fans, all we can do is hope for the best for Hamlin as reports say he’s showing signs of improvement.

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Jordy Cunningham

About the Author: Jordy Cunningham

Hailing from Ladner, B.C., I have been passionate about sports, especially baseball, since I was young. In 2018, I graduated from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops with a Bachelor of Journalism degree
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