Unprecedented. That’s the word that has been repeated ad nauseam this week in the wake of the tragic injury that Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered this week on Monday night. This is an incident that the vast majority of people haven’t had to experience over the course of their lives: quite literally watching someone almost lose their life on national television. By now, everyone knows the story of what was captured on ESPN airwaves. Hamlin popped up from a routine hit and then instantly fell to the ground, needing CPR and a trip to the ICU, where he still remains in critical condition.
Understandably, there was an intense emotional reaction to witnessing such a traumatic event. The unexpected death of a young person is a difficult concept to grasp on its own, but potentially watching the event unfold and receiving live updates is a completely different beast. According to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where Hamlin has been since Monday night, Hamlin has begun to show signs of recovery and his neurological function is intact. That’s incredibly positive news to hear and it should provide a bit of relief to everyone who has been so worried about Hamlin’s health this week.
However, there’s a lot to absorb as far as the initial reaction to the horrifying scene that was plastered on televisions and social media on Monday night. Watching a traumatic incident like that and the responses to it aren’t going to be logically sound as people grapple with the gravity of what happened to Hamlin. In a lot of ways, this has been a collective grieving process. Everyone knows that life is fragile and our very existence can be snatched up in an instant, but to actually watch it unfold is grounding — not everyone has the same reaction to seeing something that causes such an intense level of anguish.
That’s OK. People were angry at the NFL, angry at Skip Bayless, angry and confused at the entire sport of football, but it’s really the most human reaction to seeing one of our fellow humans appear to perish right before our eyes. There is no gameplan or checklist on how to deal with that and the grief it creates can manifest itself in many ways.
In times like these where the finality of death is never more apparent, when you can see the visceral reaction that experiencing something like that does to people as strong as NFL players, it can be helpful to take a step back and try to understand that the way people are grappling with their emotions in a public way is a response to the trauma that was experienced on a nationwide scale.
Normally, this column is used to challenge people to a duel of some sorts over a topic of the week, but this time I’m asking for the opposite. It’s going to take time for people to work through their emotions and feel a semblance of whole again following this incident. That’s OK too.
That means the way to handle this is being figured out as we go along. Take care of yourself, take care of your people and take as long as you need to figure out how Hamlin’s injury and the subsequent fallout makes you feel. Questioning whether or not football is something you want to continue to play or watch or cover right now doesn’t make you a performative person, it simply makes you a human going toe-to-toe with a public grieving process in this instance. That’s OK, too.
Be kind to people as we continue to sift through the aftermath of an unprecedented, dark event. If you need a hug or a quick pick-me-up, meet me at the logo, I’ll be there for you like others have been for me this week.