“Life is Bigger Than Football”: the Injury and Recovery of Damar Hamlin


During the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals game on Jan. 2, the unwavering truth of mortality became very clear to athletes who once saw themselves as invincible. Rival quarterbacks embraced; fans stood shocked; tears streamed down the faces of all who saw Damar Hamlin as friend or idol, unconscious as a stretcher hurried through a suspended field of play. 

Hamlin collapsed from a cardiac arrest after tackling his opponent, Tee Higgins, in the first quarter of the game. Medical workers spent 10 minutes administering CPR to the Bills’ safety, rushing him to the hospital, and saving his life in their deeds. Accompanied with an outpouring of support, Hamlin was released Jan. 9 in improved health after spending several days in critical condition. 

“To see everything transpire, from the hit, to him getting up, to him falling, to everything – it’s just something that I can’t … unsee,” Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White said in an interview with CNN. “Every time I close my eyes it replays. I tried watching TV and every time the TV goes to commercial, that’s the only thing that comes to my mind.”

To show their support for the athlete and the Bills organization, every NFL team changed its profile picture to Hamlin’s jersey number, a now empowering no. 3. Throughout a week of endless thoughts and prayers, Hamlin was announced to be in stable condition, later speaking his first words since suffering injury: “Did we win?”

“Watching the world come together around me on Sunday was truly an amazing feeling,” Hamlin said on Twitter. “The same love you all have shown me is the same love that I plan to put back into the world [and] more. Bigger than football!”

Hamlin is a widely regarded person that truly touches the lives of everyone he meets, making his recovery an even more joyous occasion. His teammates speak fondly about his smile, his positive attitude, and his energy; describing him as “larger than life”.   

“For him to check on us when he is the person that’s going through what he’s going through – that just shows what type of person he is,” Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White said to CNN.

In his hospital bed, sporting a “Love for Damar” jersey and hat, the recovering safety watched the Bills-Patriots game hosted the following week. When the Bills won, Hamlin was ecstatic, tweeting how proud he was and how much he wished he was out there with his elated teammates.

It’s been crazy. It just shows you that we really put our body, mind, and soul on the line every play. I’ve been praying for his family and him as well. ”

— David Njoku

“It’s been crazy,” tight end David Njoku said to Sports Illustrated. “It just shows you that we really put our body, mind, and soul on the line every play. I’ve been praying for his family and him as well. Just speechless. All we can do is just pray.”

Though Hamlin’s cardiac arrest wasn’t preventable by means of protocol, the NFL has been under fire for its general lack of safety precautions. Football’s reputation as a dangerous sport prompted many to question whether it is worth the obvious risks. 

“In this game, you always know in the back of your head this is a very physical sport,” Njoku said. “This is a very aggressive, physical sport. It’s tough to even talk about that because it doesn’t really hit until things like this happen. I’m praying for him and his family.”

In the end, a life-threatening injury brought the world together in concern for the beloved athlete. Players, teams, fans, and even the casual observer of the sport put their heads together, hoping for the best for this young athlete facing tragedy. Hamlin’s collapse inspired a lot of people to live life to the fullest, questioning whether football puts that choice to risk. 

“Positive affirmations work absolute miracles,” study hall teacher Mrs. Michelle Cross said while discussing the inspiring story of Damar Hamlin. “You need to know how precious every single second is.”