Damar Hamlin: A Tragic Circumstance Solved by Routine


Damar Hamlin is removed from Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio in an ambulance after going into cardiac arrest. /Courtesy of Schetm

The Jan. 2 Monday Night Football matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) and Buffalo Bills (13-3), 24-year-old Bills’ Safety Damar Hamlin made a routine tackle on Cincinnati Bengals’ Wide Receiver Tee Higgins with 5:58 left in the first quarter. After the tackle, Hamlin stood up, took two steps,  and collapsed to the turf. 

With Hamlin in cardiac arrest, the Bills’ sideline immediately went into its emergency action plan to attend to the motionless Hamlin. By administering CPR, medical staff were able to revive his heartbeat on the field. Hamlin was then driven off the field in an ambulance and transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. 

The atmosphere at the game almost instantaneously shifted from passion and rivalry to shock and disbelief. Twenty-three-year-old Cincinnati native Nick Tonnis has been a Bengals fan his entire life and was there to watch the game.

“When we got into the stadium it was ridiculous. Better energy than any Bengals game I’ve ever been to. During that first drive, Burrow came out firing, and we scored in what, five or six plays? It was the best feeling I have ever had during a Bengals game in my life… until the injury of course,” Tonnis said. 

Given the abrupt and uncommon nature of the injury, there was understandably quite a bit of confusion when play stopped. For a game garnering so much anticipation, football quickly became an afterthought. 

“When it happened, nobody realized for a solid 30 seconds that the situation was serious. From where I was sitting, you couldn’t even see that he was receiving CPR. We ended up staying at the stadium for at least another hour and a half after the injury happened before it was announced on the jumbotron that the game was canceled,” Tonnis said. “During that time, the atmosphere changed dramatically from the beginning of the game. People had their heads on their hands… it was incredibly quiet.” 

Hamlin was released from the Cincinnati hospital Jan. 9 and transferred to a hospital in Buffalo, New York, where he continues his recovery. Hamlin was discharged from the Buffalo hospital Jan. 11 and has since been able to visit his teammates and coaches as they prepare to make a run in the playoffs. The Bills won their Super Wildcard game Jan. 15 in a 34-31 nail-biter against the Miami Dolphins.

Before the game, Hamlin Tweeted:

“My heart is with my guys as they compete today!Supporting from home as I focus on my recovery. Nothing I want more than to be out there with them! LFG #BillsMafia.”

While the event that happened was unexpected, it was still routine for the medical staff that saved Hamlin’s life.

Sarah Pfau, the director of sports medicine at Seattle U, has previous experience working in football. Her job is to expect the unexpected and plan for the worst case scenario. 

“The chances for Hamlin to survive that type of situation were really low, and what caused his success rate is the quick response. The medical staff handled it excellently, but at the same time, it’s nothing special. They didn’t do anything extraordinary. Yes, they do deserve their praise, but that is something that is so routine. They just happened to do it on the biggest stage at the most crucial time,” Pfau said.

Second-year Business major Jayden Bartolome grew up playing football and has seen serious injuries like this before.

“It [Hamlin’s injury] was very tough to watch. Injuries in football happen a lot, but at the end of the day, you never want to see someone go down like that,” Bartolome said. “In terms of personal experience, I was lucky enough to rarely see serious injuries, but in highschool, when an upperclassman broke their collarbone during a game, I remember everybody pulling together to support him. There is obviously the extremely competitive and physical side of football, but then it’s jarring when you get pulled out of that and reminded that it’s about more than just football.” 

Damar Hamlin’s Foundation, Chasing M’s, which has been raising money for a toy drive, had a stated goal of $2,500, but by Jan. 16, had reached close to $9 million.

The next round of the playoffs will see the Bengals and Bills face each other on Sunday, Jan. 22 in a game that is sure to be both incredibly competitive and emotional.