How a terrifying injury on national television holds a lasting legacy on sports and safety, and how its impact extends to the Drew community.
During prime time on Jan. 2, the matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, two of the National Football League’s top teams, was highly anticipated among viewers. The game featured the American Football Conference’s best team of the 2022 season, the Bills, traveling to Cincinnati to face the conference’s reigning champions, drawing in 23.79 million viewers at kickoff. According to Sports Media Watch, this was by far the most viewers for any Monday night football game in the 2022-23 season. However, the game that was supposed to showcase the sport at its highest level was halted after less than seven minutes of play. Players were left speechless and in tears, while fans formed prayer circles in the parking lot upon their premature exits from the stadium. In a shocking turn of events, Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed and went into cardiac arrest on the field after a hard collision to the chest with Bengals’ receiver Tee Higgins.
Questions about Hamlin’s safety immediately became the forefront of national attention. Many wondered if the 24-year-old had lost his life after the tackle attempt; others questioned if he would regain mobility in his limbs. After the collision, Hamlin laid on the ground on national television for 35 minutes. Minimal details were provided as Hamlin was administered CPR before being transported in an ambulance to a nearby hospital while the sports world watched helplessly in shock.
The emotional impact of Hamlin’s injury on the sports world was evident in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Commentators, reporters and athletes of all sports expressed their sentiment as they confronted an event of a magnitude previously unrivaled in American sports.
The blanket statement when discussing the dangers of sports is that “injuries are a part of the game.” Though athletes can take as many preventative measures as possible, injuries are simply inevitable. They are a part of the imaginary “contract” all athletes sign when they make a commitment to dedicate their lives to their sport. However, Hamlin’s injury unveiled the extreme, rarely-seen side to this dark truth of sports, prompting a change in outlook within athletes at all levels, including the athletes at Drew University.
Captain of the Drew Rangers baseball team Gio DeGiglio (C’23) shared how his perspective on his playing career changed in the days after Hamlin’s injury. “The first thing that came to mind was a ball coming back and hitting me in the chest, being a little fearful and wondering about putting my children into that situation in their sport,” he said.
Beyond the sheer emotional shock factor, Hamlin’s injury highlights the rapidity with which not just athletic careers, but lives as well, can change permanently. For athletes, the on-field performance is merely the tip of the iceberg that reflects the hours of devotion spent perfecting their respective crafts.
Joshua DuBose (‘24), captain of the Drew Rangers fencing team, expressed his reaction to the injury and aftermath, saying, “It really puts in perspective all the hard work you can put into something and in a moment, it can all go away… it was definitely a wake up call to put not only my mental health but my body first. We dedicate our lives to these sports because we love it… but we have to be careful.”
DuBose’s reaction was echoed by athletes throughout the Drew community and the sports world at large. Danger is inherent to sports, yet instances like Hamlin’s provide an alarming reminder of how health is treated as a privilege rather than a foregone conclusion.
One week after his injury, Hamlin was discharged and returned home to Buffalo, where he will continue to recover. Hamlin’s improvement is a victory in and of itself, but perhaps the greater triumph of the past 3 weeks is the incident’s large-scale impression on the sports world. Oftentimes in competitive environments, we lose sight of the brotherhood on which these environments are built. However, legacy-defining moments are not always record-breaking performances or championship winning teams, but instead moments that pull everyone in the sports community together.
The legacy of that Monday night football game will prove to be far greater than any other American sporting event in recent memory, for it was defined not by the performance of sports figures whom we idolize, but by the raw emotions and feeling of connectedness that even the most bitter of rivals shared while Hamlin’s health was the only priority in mind. Overall, the sports community demonstrated an unwavering support for Hamlin throughout his fight for his life and into his recovery, showing that at the intersection of sports and humanity lies an inspiring display of unity.
Devan Sutaria is a first year majoring in biochemistry and minoring in public health.