Only Human: The Damar Hamlin Incident

Last night, the world watched in shock, disbelief, confusion, concern and horror as medical personnel administered CPR to an unconscious player in the National Football League.

It wasn’t what anyone expected after Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin executed a routine tackle early in the first quarter of the second to last regular season game.

What we witnessed was a player stand up after an otherwise normal play, then collapse, on live television.

The world watched for several agonizing minutes as players cried, prayed and held one another while forming a surrounding human wall to shield his medical attention from casual view. Announcers fought for words to explain a then-unknown situation, often cutting to commercial. Smartphones around the country and beyond were activated for phone calls, text messages and social media posts, attempting to process what was happening while many notified family and friends who may not have been watching.

Photo courtesy of Deadline

As he was taken off the field by ambulance, we all agreed that this was something we had never witnessed before, let alone considered. And while it is true that we have seen devastating injuries that have resulted in emergency medical care in the past, no one was mentally or emotionally prepared to watch someone fight for his life in view of millions on live television.

This time, there was no “thumbs up” from the departing injured to let us know that he was going to be ok. To press on. To fight on.

At one point, a five-minute break was proposed before allowing play to continue. But it was evident by the expressions and body language of the participants that their hearts were no longer in it.

Neither was the rest of the world.

A little over an hour after the incident, the game was finally postponed until further notice, leaving its attendees to exit silently, all sharing the same thought: the status and well-being of player Damar Hamlin.

At the time of this post, all we know is that his heartbeat was restored on the field after going into cardiac arrest. Also, that he is currently sedated and in critical condition at the UC Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The reminder, if not a lesson to us all is that we are each and every one of us, only human.

As fans and viewers, we see professional athletes as extraordinary subjects. Warriors. Gladiators. We pay them top dollar to exhaust themselves, sweat and bleed on the battlefield for the entertainment of a blood-thirsty society. We hold them to high, unforgiving standards. When they are hurt, the concerns of many are how soon they will return, often disregarding their conditions and roads to recovery. When they begin to show signs of aging, devolvement, incompetence, inconsistency or inefficiency, we talk about which combatants they should be bartered for in our quest for team championship, bragging rights and glory.

And when they have no more left to give, we demand/salute their retirement (or release) before moving on.

I say again, we are all, only human.

Watching the emotional responses of Hamlin’s teammates, coaches, staff and opponents should be a reminder of that. At that moment and for the remainder of the evening, their jersey numbers didn’t matter, the score didn’t matter. Neither did the sport. A brother had fallen, and his fellow combatants were trapped in a situation beyond their control.

It was up to the expertise of people whose training revolved not around the gym and field, but in the lab and medical classroom.

It was up to God.

For we are all, only human and today, we were reminded of our humanity.

For almost every fighter we send to the boxing ring, there are parents. For almost every Olympian we send to a neutral location every four years for world competition, there are siblings. For many a hockey player taking a punch on the ice, there are children.

We are all, only human. And we have families.

So as the doctors, nurses and the rest of the medical staff continue to give him their very best care and attention, remember that Damar Hamlin is one of us. He gives his all on the field of play for a hopefully prosperous career and our entertainment because that is his life’s mission.

But let us not forget that when the game is over, he and all others remove their armor, shower and don their Clark Kent clothing…

…and they go home.

Damar Hamlin eats, sleeps, thinks, laughs and loves.
He also cares, worries, cries and ails.

And today, he fights for his life.

Today we keep him in our thoughts. Today, we pray our most fervent prayers.

Photo courtesy of

Because Damar Hamlin, like each and every one of us, is only human.


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