Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin (BuffaloBills.com photo)

The human spirit is a powerful unseen force. Sports is a tangible and visceral entity that elicits the best and worst of American culture. The two intersected this week through a young man named Damar Hamlin.  

On Monday night, every major political and social news story in this country was superseded and preempted by Hamlin, a 24-year-old safety for the Buffalo Bills, suffering cardiac arrest on the playing field late in the first quarter of a pivotal AFC matchup versus the Cincinnati Bengals. 

The outcome of a game between two Super Bowl contenders that could have decided which of them, along with the Kansas City Chiefs, earns home field advantage in the conference in the playoffs became insignificant as medical personnel urgently performed CPR on Hamlin, whose heart stopped after he collided with Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, fell to the turf, stood up and then collapsed onto the field. 

Higgins’s helmet made contact with Hamlin’s chest, causing what several cardiologists who subsequently provided medical opinions said was likely commotio cordis, a malfunction of the heart caused by direct blunt force. After being tended to for 16 minutes after the incident, Hamlin was transported by an ambulance that had been driven onto the field to the University of Cincinnati Hospital. Hamlin’s mother, Nina Hamlin, was at the game and accompanied him in the ambulance. Once at the hospital, he had to be resuscitated for a second time. He was still being treated at UC Hospital as of yesterday.

Hamlin, a native of Mckees Rocks, Pennsylvania (part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area), played college football at the University of Pittsburgh and was a sixth-round draft pick by the Bills in 2021.

“Damar remains in the ICU in critical condition with signs of improvement noted yesterday and overnight,” the Bills tweeted. “He is expected to remain under intensive care as his health care team continues to monitor and treat him.”  

Hamlin’s tragic incident has gripped much of the nation. Millions of dollars have been donated to his Chasing M’s Foundation since Monday evening. He could be anyone’s son, brother or teammate. Football is an American obsession. It is a collision sport with inherent physical dangers, but it is by far the most popular sport in this country, with the NFL No. 1 and college football a close No. 2. 

Conversations in this country and beyond are contentious and divisive regarding the merits and import of a sport that can be brutal. CTE, paralysis and—yes—now cardiac arrest are part of the football lexicon. Perhaps no one can make a better argument pro or con than Hamlin. It is to be hoped that he will have the chance to do so one day.

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