By: MJ Lenk
March 27th, 2023
Through tragedy and triumph, when support is needed, there is no greater strength than unity and community. In times of trouble, communities are constantly coming together over common interests or concerns. While individuals have differing views, conflicting notions are left at the door when support and togetherness is essential.
This past NFL season will never be forgotten due to an unimaginable tragedy that has never occurred in this sport. In a Monday night football game on Jan. 2, Buffalo Bill’s safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest, a complete stoppage of heart function, after making a routine tackle on Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver Tee Higgins.
Several minutes passed as Hamlin laid unresponsive on the field surrounded by teammates, coaches and medical personnel. An ambulance immediately drove onto the field, transporting Hamlin to a nearby hospital to receive emergency care. He was taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where he remained in critical condition for a week.
Soon after fans realized the severity of Hamlin’s injury, the stadium fell silent. Nothing like this has ever occurred in an NFL game before, shocking football fans across the country. There was a young man’s life on the line from an unpreventable event.
Jacob Wengler, a football fan from Metro Detroit described the incident as, “crazy” and went on to further explain his thoughts about the injury, “I’ve seen it once before, but for soccer,” Wengler shared, “Christian Eriksen at the Euros in 2020 had a cardiac arrest incident, his teammates tried to help. Seeing this for football was crazy. Football Twitter all banned together to show support. No one was making funny comments or trying to be funny like usual.”
Wengler went on to explain what effect Hamlin’s injury had on him and his friends, “I had a very serious conversation with my friends in our group chat. You never expect to see that with a young kid the same age as us in what looked like a routine tackle that we see all the time in the NFL. It was a wake up call.”
After Hamlin was transported, there was nothing but disbelief amongst everyone in the stadium and on the field. The Bills shed tears as one of their own was rushed away and the Bengals players made their way over to the Bills’ sideline to offer comfort and support.
This game was important for playoffs and seeding, so at the moment no one knew what was going to happen with the remaining playing time. Each team and staff of coaches made their way to the locker rooms as they knew there was no way they could continue this night after what just happened to Hamlin. There was too much immediate trauma.
Hamlin’s injury became the biggest nationwide story on every news channel, in every journal and paper, and the highest trending topic across all social media platforms. Everyone was talking about Damar and praying for his recovery.
Within hours, and into the next day, every NFL team in the franchise had updated their profile pictures on twitter, instagram, and facebook to the circulating image that said, “PRAY FOR DAMAR” with the number three, Hamlin’s jersey number. Every account posted expressing their sincere concern for Hamlin’s health and his life.
When asked about the importance of community, Wengler said, “because it gives you an outlook, it gives you a place to look to for support. You can gather thoughts or join in on conversation. It’s important to be part of a community whether you’re an active member or just viewing it. This kid isn’t just a football player for your entertainment, he’s a real person too so there was a lot of care.”
Athletes, celebrities and all others alike also took to social platforms to immediately share their support for Hamlin and the Bills Franchise. There was a heaviness not only in the world of American football, but amongst everyone following the events nationwide.
As thoughts and prayers continued to pour in following Monday’s tragedy, awareness was spread surrounding a Go Fund Me created by Damar Hamlin in order to have a toy drive for a daycare that is run by Hamlin’s mother Nina.
In no time, the foundation had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the toy drive. During the two days Hamlin was in a medically induced coma and the days spent recovering, the support kept flooding in. Teams and people across the country donated what they could to the Go Fund Me in honor of Damar.
There was such beauty in the way everyone came together to do anything they could to offer their support after football’s most horrific injury. The football community became one team, united in hopes Hamlin would make a healthy recovery.
After a week spent at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Hamlin was transported to the Buffalo General Medical Center on Jan. 9 where he would be safely discharged two weeks later.
The NFL community has never experienced an event such as this, and updates on Hamlin were given for the remainder of the season. Once tension and emotions began to lessen, fans of the sport wondered if the game would’ve still been stopped if the players and coaches hadn’t refused to continue.
Questions regarding NFL commissioners’ capitalistic agendas began to arise because of the game’s importance at the time. Discussion of priorities and morale were quickly occupying football twitter in response.
Wengler shared his opinion saying, “I think the game would have still been canceled, but the fact that Damar had to be resuscitated due to cardiac arrest rather than any other injury and being carted off definitely solidified that. They were in a tough spot, it was a game that had big meaningful impact on playoffs,” Wengler said, “which shouldn’t matter when life’s in jeopardy but the NFL is a business and has to keep flowing so they very well could have said let’s keep the game going, but knowing how serious it is, and how quickly the decision was with such little information, i think it would’ve been canceled anyways. Deciding what’s right and wrong becomes difficult.”
This past football season has been filled with doubts regarding the NFL’s care for its players, especially after the season that Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had. He too experienced traumatic injury; however, this arguably could have been prevented.
Tagovailoa suffered what was labeled as a “back injury” early on in week three of the NFL season. He later received concussions in both weeks four and 16. The week four concussion resulted in him being removed from the field on a backboard.In week 16, Tagovailoa suffered his third concussion of the year but was not removed from the game. He finished the game poorly and threw multiple interceptions in the second half of that game. His concussion was not confirmed until after this game.
Wengler thought the league lacked in this circumstance by explaining, “It was very poor from the NFL… With them being so cautious but missing this, it was bad. Even Tua said when he got the second one, he was having a good game and there were no tests, he finished the game poorly. At the coaches and players meeting he said he didn’t remember the second half. With an injury that bad and banging his head that hard, and no one made an effort, its concerning from the NFL.”
This resulted in an investigation into the league’s concussion protocol. This was a joint investigation between the NFL and the NFLPA, which is the National Football League Players Association.
Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, released a statement saying the situation was properly handled and that at the time Tagovailoa was not exhibiting any unusual or concerning behaviors.
Throughout the entirety of the season, many medical personnel and doctors also took to twitter to criticize the continuous clearance of Tagovailoa. Many expressed that he shouldn’t have continued this season after one concussion, let alone after two. There is serious concern for traumatic brain injuries and a future risk of CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Both instances show individuals coming together with concern and respect for a player in order to spread love through the football community. Hamlin’s injury was an occurrence no one could’ve expected, yet everyone rallied together with no hesitation to create such unity. Where there is community there is love and light, creating an unbeatable team.
MJ Lenk is a senior English major with a concentration in Creative Writing. She aspires to work as an editor for a major publishing house, and to publish her own work as a writer and poet. In her free time she resets by spending time with friends and family and for hobbies she enjoys writing, reading, art, cooking, and exploring new places.