Reflecting on an impactful sports story in recent history
Almost every household on the first Monday of 2023 had one of two things playing — for some of us, both. The first option: the incredible performance by Team Canada at the World Juniors.
The second option: Monday Night Football.
The Buffalo Bills were suited up in Cincinnati to face the Bengals. There were many layers of hype to the game: the AFC playoff picture; star young quarterbacks Josh Allen and Joe Burrow going head to head for the first time; and the finale of Monday Night Football for the 2022 regular season. It was sure to be a thrilling, unpredictable matchup.
Perhaps you were on the couch with your family, or snuggled in bed with your laptop. Maybe you had some buddies over for drinks, or were out at the bar to watch.
Regardless of your situation, the same shock, confusion, and multitude of questions likely came to your mind.
Just a few minutes into the game, Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed after a hit. The field was rushed by team trainers, first responders, and an ambulance. For ten minutes, everyone watched a terrifying scene as Hamlin was receiving CPR, and the cameras panned to players with indescribable expressions on their faces.
What began as the biggest game of the NFL season had quickly transformed into something much greater — a collective moment of hope for Damar Hamlin’s health and safety.
Immediately following Hamlin’s collapse, players from Buffalo and Cincinnati mutually agreed to halt the game. The response to this decision was generally warm. Notably, many Twitter users offered their support and encouragement for the Buffalo Bills’ safety, with all 32 NFL teams changing their profile picture to the same image of Hamlin’s jersey.
Following the cancellation of the game, the global response to Hamlin’s situation continued. One of the more notable developments was the support for Damar Hamlin’s personal charity, a toy drive he started named Chasing M’s. Prior to the Monday Night Football game, Chasing M’s had almost hit their GoFundMe goal of $2,500; currently, the charity has received almost 9 million dollars in donations.
Damar Hamlin’s situation is undoubtedly the global sports story of the year. It represents a moment when everyone — both sports fans and non-sports fans — was able to come together and wish for the same thing. On Twitter, one of the more divisive platforms, many users were aligned in their hope for Hamlin’s safety.
However, some social media users were still quick to exploit Hamlin’s situation. Some claimed that the on-field collapse was not a direct result of the game; rather, it was caused by the COVID-19 vaccine. The unfortunate nature of these anti-vaccine claims is that they promote harmful conspiracies and detract from what is actually important — Hamlin’s safety.
Other users exploited the situation by shifting the focus away from Hamlin and towards the execution of the NFL’s schedule. Popular sports analyst, Skip Bayless, questioned the cancellation of the game, tweeting, “this late in the season, a game of this magnitude is crucial to the regular-season outcome.” Similarly, sentiments along these lines detract from what the actual focus should be.
Nevertheless, within the context of this 2022/23 NFL season, the Hamlin situation is a massive event in what has been a turbulent year for both the city of Buffalo and the Buffalo Bills. Prior to the season, a racially motivated shooting at a Buffalo grocery store claimed the lives of 10 residents, and more recently, during the winter storm in Buffalo last December, 37 city residents passed away.
This season has been anything but easy for the Bills. But having positive updates about their teammate in Hamlin has definitely provided a boost for the team heading into the postseason. Hamlin has been active on social media, supporting his team, even stepping foot in the facility to see his teammates days before their first playoff game. Seeing positive updates have been wonderful, but Hamlin is still focused on his recovery, and there is surely a long road ahead.
When Hamlin first woke up, he asked “did we win?“
The fact that — while we were all waiting to hear if he’d be okay, the first thing on his mind was who won the football game — really puts things into perspective.
While professional athletes like Hamlin live the dream of many, and every athlete can relate to the notion of putting everything on the line for the team and to win the game, there are risks, and there are tragedies behind the glory. We’ve been reminded that Hamlin, like other athletes, is human.
This weekend the divisional round of the NFL playoffs begin. Perhaps the most notable game of the weekend is the Sunday (quasi) rematch between the Bills and the Bengals. The two teams look to face off again for the first time since their cancelled game in week 18. One of the highlights of this game is bound to be Damar Hamlin’s attendance for the first time since his collapse.