It was Jan. 5. Damar Hamlin, who three days prior had suffered one of the scariest injuries in NFL history, had just awoken from a medically-induced coma. He was able to communicate via writing. “Did we win?” was the first thing he wrote.
“Damar, you won,” his doctors responded. “You won the game of life.”
Hamlin, a rookie safety for the Buffalo Bills, was playing during Monday Night Football against the Cincinnati Bengals. The game featured two of the best teams in the AFC vying for playoff seeding. After only nine minutes, the injury occurred, bringing the intense game to a fervent pause.
The Bengals had the ball and were driving on the field. Joe Burrow, quarterback for the Bengals, passed the ball to wide receiver Tee Higgins. Higgins caught the ball and proceeded to lower his shoulder into Hamlin to make a routine tackle. Hamlin got up from the play but then fell back down to the ground instantly. Players called for medical staff to treat him.
The medical staff administered CPR to Hamlin for nine minutes, eventually getting him intubated and taking him in an ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center. Hamlin was later diagnosed with cardiac arrest.
After the incident, both teams made their way back to their respective locker rooms, and the NFL indefinitely postponed the game – a decision unheard of in NFL history. A game has never before been postponed due to an injury, although serious injuries have occurred during games before. The game would later be canceled and would not resume.
Hamlin inspired a nationwide cause. Users on social media found his nonprofit organization, “The Chasing M’s Foundation,” and raised over $8.7 million. Hamlin’s initial goal for the organization was only $2,500. Each of the NFL teams changed their profile photo to the number 3 with “Pray for Damar” around it.
Hamlin started to recover slowly, later facetiming his teammates. The following Sunday, the league wore shirts in honor of Hamlin saying “Love for Damar” with the number 3. The Bills had a home game against the New England Patriots, and the stadium was packed in honor of Hamlin.
Hamlin visited the Bills facility on Saturday, Jan. 14, to see his teammates. He stayed home to see them defeat the Miami Dolphins during Super Wild Card Weekend.
Hamlin’s story demonstrates the power of what sports can do. Everyone, regardless of what teams they cheered for or their diverse backgrounds, came together for a good cause. Football fans showed how sports can bring people together.