A sack celebration involving Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith raised social media ire on Sunday in the wake of Damar Hamlin's cardiac arrest on the football field.
Highsmith addressed the celebration Monday. He told reporters that it had nothing to do with Hamlin and that he would "never, ever, ever" intentionally mock Hamlin's medical condition.
The celebration took place late in Pittsburgh's 28-14 win over the Cleveland Browns. Highsmith sacked Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson in the game's final minute. As Highsmith lay on his back in the aftermath of the tackle, defensive end DeMarvin Leal approached him and performed mock chest compressions.
This took place six days after Hamlin required CPR resuscitation during a Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Buffalo Bills safety suffered cardiac arrest on the field before being transported to a Cincinnati hospital. The NFL canceled the game as Hamlin's health status was in doubt.
The Steelers' celebration raised eyebrows on Twitter. Highsmith clarified Monday that it was unrelated to Hamlin.
“I just don't want people to think of me that way and think I was doing anything,” Highsmith told reporters, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Brian Batko. “Because I would never, ever, ever, ever want to do that intentionally, and I never ever would do that.”
Batko reported that the celebration was indeed not unique to Sunday. The Steelers have done it before, and so it appears that it was simply a routine the Steelers performed in the heat of the football moment without thinking about Hamlin.
“I just want people to know that I have nothing but love for Damar and his family,” Highsmith continued. “When that happened, I was shook for a couple days. Me and my wife, we were watching the game, we immediately saw it and intentionally started praying, intentionally prayed for him, his parents, the doctors, the nurses. ...
"I just want people to know that there was nothing intentional about that. It was never planned, none of that.”
After spending a week at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, including multiple days in the ICU in critical condition, Hamlin was released Monday. He returned home to continue his care at Buffalo General Medical Center. He watched and tweeted through Buffalo's win over the New England Patriots on Sunday and delivered another message to his Twitter followers on Monday.