Considering the Safety of Players: The Damar Hamlin Injury


Damar Hamlin is a defensive back who plays for the Buffalo Bills. He suffered a cardiac arrest while playing against the Cincinnatti Bengals on Monday Night Football. PHOTO//@HamlinIsland

Connor Creedon, News and Features Editor

On January 2, 2023, the NFL and the sports community around the world were jolted awake by one of the most terrifying injuries in the history of football.

American football has long been considered one of the most grueling sports, filled with bone-rattling tackles and constant slamming into the turf. While this all still occurs today, modern football is regarded as the safest it has ever been due to the massive increase in technology being used to track all aspects of player data, most notably information related to player safety. While these improvements have positively impacted the health and well-being of players year after year, the heavy-hitting nature of the game still leaves room for serious injury to occur. Most of the time, these injuries are considered “minor” and require consistent rest and rehab to get back on the field as soon as possible. 

The Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals had played only nine minutes of their AFC matchup when Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin tackled Bengals receiver Tee Higgins to end a 13-yard gain by the offense. The tackle included impact to the chest area of Hamlin, who afterward stood up, took a few steps, and collapsed to the ground limply.

As medical staff tended to Hamlin as they do with all other injuries, it became clear this situation was more serious. Trainers administered CPR for ten minutes as it was confirmed Demar Hamlin was suffering from cardiac arrest. His heartbeat was reportedly restored on the field, and from that point, professionals loaded him into an ambulance and rushed him to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where he remained in critical condition.

The football game was delayed for upwards of an hour before officially being postponed and eventually canceled while thousands of fans, players and staff waited with thoughts and prayers for any indications that Hamlin would be okay. The recovery process began with a breathing tube and lots of rest as doctors kept a close eye on the fragile situation.

Remarkably, only a week after the incident, Damar Hamlin was released from UC Medical Center and flew back to Buffalo where he will be monitored in the hospital as he undergoes various forms of physical and psychological therapy to ensure there was no further damage to other functional parts of his body. Almost as equally shocking as the injury itself is the speed of recovery Hamlin has displayed in such a short time. Taking a hit as he did and suffering from intense cardiac arrest is by no means something professionals expect anyone to recover from so quickly.

Piedmont Univerisity’s Head Athletic Trainer Dr. Matt McKinney credits Hamlin’s “age, good health, and great shape” to playing a significant role in such an advanced recovery process. “The quick action of the training staff also plays a major role as they were on it and ready to do their job.”

Assistant athletic trainer for the Buffalo Bills Denny Kellington has been recognized as one of the largest role players in the administration of the CPR that brought Hamiln’s heart back to a relatively stable condition where nothing worse could occur on the football field.

“Most of the time, the job of an athletic trainer occurs in the background with the sport being the main attraction. It is nice to see trainers get recognition for the wide span of skills needed to perform in moments where it matters most,” shared Dr. McKinney.

The NFL and Buffalo community has shown their support during Damar Hamlin’s recovery by wearing t-shirts with his name and jersey number as well as public art displays like this mural in Buffalo. PHOTO//@HamlinIsland

The whole world has continued to hope and pray for the best possible recovery for Damar Hamlin, with the movement being kickstarted by NFL players throughout the league showing support in Week 18 matchups, wearing various garments with “3”, Hamlin’s number, as well as other phrases such as “Love for 3”.

While football and sports of all kinds are built on the foundation of competitive nature, the ability to put a sense of community when it matters most shows the true meaning of sports as a whole. As strength continues to build for Hamlin, his family and the football community, many eyes will stay on the NFL to see how future operations are modified and where science and technology will keep evolving hand in hand for the improved safety in a sport the country loves so much.

At the time of the publishing of this article, Damar Hamlin was released from the hospital in Buffalo Monday, Jan. 9, after having been hospitalized for 9 days after his cardiac arrest. He is still resting, and right now his health is the number one focus before any talks of him returning to the practice field.