Monday’s Bills-Bengals game has been canceled and Friday, NFL owners opened the possibility of a neutral-site AFC Championship game. Friday, though the good news about Damar Hamlin was more important.
Friday morning, we heard that Hamlin was breathing on his own, the neurological functions intact, talking to his family, teammates, and doctors, the entire NFL community and so many more were relieved. They said prayers were answered.
But all week this has been more than the game of football. It has been about a 24-year old athlete fighting for his life after an unfortunate and rare tackle on a gridiron in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s been an entire impact of community, of players, coaches, executives, fans of every sport and team.
It has been about Damar Hamlin and will continue to be the story this weekend as the NFL regular season concludes with playoff implications on the line. But who cares about football now? Sure, this is sports, and football, a game that is brutal and accustomed to hard contact.
Sports, though, have always been a way to divert from the bad and ugly of a society. Remember the events of September 11, 2001, how sports became a diversion as baseball games resumed and we slowly got back to normal.
Just as the pandemic we have all experienced, one way or the other, it was sports that provided a diversion from the lives lost that we mourned.
However, this was different because we are not mourning the loss of Damar Hamlin, instead we are hearing and those nearby, witnessing a comeback that did not seem possible. And Hamlin’s comeback is as good as any team coming from behind and providing that thrill of victory.
So let’s regress a bit. Monday evening, and this week, we were in agony. Today, we have tears of joy. Damar Hamlin still has a long process to a full recovery, the NFL season will conclude, playoffs will commence the following week. Fantasy players and oddsmakers will do their normal business.
But the lingering question, again, is the safety of the NFL and their players? Is it safe to take the field, on the ice for contact sports, and in the ring for that brutal sport of boxing? The Damar Hamlin tackle and collapsing on the field will continue to be a lingering question.
Sam Garnes, a former defensive back with the Giants and Jets can relate to injuries, the tackles. He watched, as so many did, as events unfolded on the ESPN national telecast. A Bronx kid, Garnes wanted football and became an all-city player at DeWitt Clinton High School.
He said his prayers for Hamlin. Garnes, works and talks with youngsters about the risks of putting on the equipment and taking the field. He preaches about the safety and chances you take when playing the rigorous and contact sport. This can happen fast. Standing up, taking a few steps, and then collapsing.
He told me Friday, “One thing I do is not convince anybody to play football. I don’t unconvince them either. You have a question, you shouldn’t be playing football.”
Damar Hamlin never had a question. He took that risk and was playing football. He got the opportunity to start and improved on every play.
A similar statement like the one from Garnes can be heard at boxing gyms as there is a continuing worldwide outcry from advocates to ban the sport because of the brutality and risks that come with it. Though, like the NFL, those in boxing know all about the strict medical procedures, ringside physicians and advanced CPR measures.
I have covered many, many fights and I’ve seen more than one fighter get knocked down from a brutal punch. Some survived, others collapsed. More than one never went home again to their loved ones.
I sadly reflect on the events of October 16, 2019. Then, four days before, Patrick Day, a 27-year old and promising junior middleweight from Long Island, suffered a 10th round knockout in Chicago and passed away from brain injuries.
Prichard Colon, a Puerto Rican and promising super welterweight, Gold Medal winner at the 2010 Pan American Games, collapsed and remained in a coma for 221 days due to bleeding on the brain after repeatedly being hit in the back of his head during a main event televised fight on Showtime Championship Boxing
Colon needs constant medical care from family and caretakers. It’s that ugliness of a contact sport with the unfortunate risk they take.
And this is Damar Hamlin, a football player who took the risk. Garnes continues to hear the complaints about athletes and football players, criticisms at times that go beyond the call.
He said, “We are playing a sport we are happy to be playing.” And we are all happy to be watching the NFL this weekend and the ensuing playoffs with or without home field advantage.
Unprecedented as this was, though, people are feeling better today because we know that Damar Hamlin is still with us. Regardless, if you know him or were not a fan, you now are.
Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” with Rich and co-host Robert Rizzo Tuesday evening live 8pmET on the SLG Network and YouTube