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Football player’s collapse unites fans, players in prayer

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffers a cardiac arrest on the field


Buffalo Bills players and staff huddle and pray for teammate Damar Hamlin. Getty Images/Photo by Dylan Buell

Football player’s collapse unites fans, players in prayer

Monday night’s NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals turned into a nationwide virtual prayer meeting after a player went into cardiac arrest on the field.

Bills safety Damar Hamlin stood up after tackling Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins in the first quarter, then stumbled and fell backward to the ground, seemingly lifeless.

The incident sent shockwaves of horror throughout Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium and to viewers watching on ESPN.

Paramedics immediately performed CPR on Hamlin and applied a defibrillator to his chest to restart his heart after his stunning fall. The 24-year-old Hamlin was taken from the field in an ambulance.

Doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced Hamlin in critical condition soon thereafter. News outlets later reported that Hamlin’s vital signs had returned to normal and that doctors were running more tests aimed at ensuring Hamlin’s safety.

The NFL took the unprecedented step of suspending the game—which had playoff seeding implications for both teams involved—23 minutes after Hamlin’s collapse. Cincinnati led 7-3 at the time. The NFL postponed the game indefinitely.

Almost immediately after the incident, ESPN showed Bills head coach Sean McDermott gathering his players and coaches together to pray for Hamlin. Newscasters and, fans, and players from across the NFL followed suit on social media.

A sampling of the prayers offered up:

  • “Praying hard... Please be okay man,” Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes tweeted.
  • “My prayers and thoughts go out to @HamlinIsland the Hamlin family,” tweeted Higgins, the player who collided with Hamlin. “I’m praying that you pull through bro.”
  • “Oftentimes people watching forget what players risk on Sundays,” said Houston Texans offensive lineman Scott Quessenberry, whose older brother David is a teammate of Hamlin’s. “Praying hard for Damar Hamlin and his family. God speed.”
  • “Still speechless. Prayers to DHam and his family,” Bengals safety Jessie Bates III tweeted. “Please God be with them! Please.”
  • “Father God, I pray that Damar Hamlin is OK and here with us,” New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner tweeted. “I also ask that he have a speedy recovery mentally & physically God; In Jesus name … Amen.”

Retired NFL players Tim Tebow, Larry Fitzgerald, and Derrick Deese offered up their prayers, too. So did sports figures from outside the NFL, including Doc Rivers, the head coach of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, and Charlie Partridge, the defensive line coach at the University of Pittsburgh, where Hamlin played college football.

“Damar Hamlin is the best of us. We love you, 3,” read a tweet from the college football team’s Twitter account, referring to both Hamlin’s college jersey number and his number with the Bills. “We’re praying for you.”

Politicians even got involved: Govs. Kathy Hochul of New York and Phil Murphy of New Jersey, as well as New York City Mayor Eric Adams, declared they were praying for Hamlin and called on others to do likewise.

Hamlin’s collapse also fueled speculation that a COVID-19 vaccine may have harmed the football player. The most prominent questioning came from conservative commentator Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA.

“This is a tragic and all too familiar sight right now. Athletes dropping suddenly,” Kirk tweeted.

Kirk’s tweet ignited backlash, most notably from the website Mediaite: “Charlie Kirk Uses Devastating Football Injury to Push Anti-Vax Innuendo,” Mediaite’s headline read.

According to NBC Sports, the NFL has not imposed a vaccine mandate on its players. The league has reported that 95 percent of its players are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines have been linked to rare cases myocarditis, mostly in adolescent and young men.

“The video of Damar Hamlin from a cardiologist’s perspective resembled commotio cordis—a phenomenon that occurs when a sudden blunt impact to the chest causes cardiac arrest,” Cornell University professor Bernard Ashby tweeted.

Hamlin is the type of underdog player many NFL fans love to root for: Selected by the Bills with the 212th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the 6-foot-1-inch, 200-pound Hamlin is the type of player whom NFL teams typically cut first when whittling down their rosters for the upcoming season.

Hamlin, however, wasn’t cut: Instead, the son of an ex-drug dealer made the Bills’ roster and saw significant action on special teams, helping Buffalo come within one game of last year’s Super Bowl. He became a starter this season and, ranking second on the team with 63 tackles, is a big reason why the Bills have gone 12-3 and won the conference’s East Division title.


Ray Hacke

Ray is a sports correspondent for WORLD Magazine who has covered sports professionally for three decades. He is also a licensed attorney who lives in Keizer, Ore., with his wife Pauline and daughter Ava.

@RayHacke43

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