Monday Night Football is a near sacred ritual in our home, dating back to Jim’s younger years. In one of my favorite anecdotes from his childhood, little Jimmy, who is the youngest of four boys, would come home from school each week as a young elementary student, eat dinner, do his homework, and go to bed to be woken up in time for kick-off. With Andrew in Bolivia this NFL season, I have picked up the mantle of Jim’s watching companion and embraced Monday night dinners in front of the TV watching football.
Last night I had an after work haircut and didn’t get in till late. Flinging open the front door, my greeting was “Let’s go Bills!” whom I had picked to win only to see Jim stone-faced, somberly watching coverage of Buffalo Bill’s safety Damar Hamlin’s dramatic on-field collapse. There was no trash talk or celebratory end zone dances to be found. Instead, grown men, who are paid to slam other grown men to the ground each
week, hid their faces and cried while countless sports commentators and fans sent thoughts and prayers to Hamlin and his family.
I in no way wish to minimize the trauma of those who witnessed the medical personnel’s desperate struggle to revive Hamlin. What his family, teammates and fans witnessed was, I am sure, a horror they will never forget. I applaud the NFL’s decision to suspend play in deference not only to Hamlin but also out of respect for the shock and grief of both teams.
However (you knew a “however” was coming), I do take issue with a great deal of the hyperbole spouted by ESPN commentators and others regarding the significance of this event. Yes, Hamlin obviously experienced a potentially life-altering injury or at least a life-altering event. We can only speculate as to the cause of his cardiac arrest. While it could be entirely unrelated to the blow to the chest he received seconds before he fell to the ground, that seems unlikely. Assuming it was related, this event only differs in severity to the countless smaller, but nonetheless life-altering injuries players experience each time they take the field. How many other players in the very same game received a few more bumps and bruises, a little more damage to their knees, another blow to the head, all of which add up to wear and tear on their bodies which is irreversible, impacting their quality and likely length of life?
And how does this differ from highway workers hit by cars, policemen killed in the line of duty, coal miners with black lungs, etc., except in the size of their paychecks and the amount of attention and concern their injuries arouse? There was a baggage handler killed earlier this week while going about his unglamorous job in an Alabama regional airport. Where were the mourners questioning the safety of his working conditions or calling for the airport to be closed longer than a few hours out of respect?
I’m in no way saying that in the face of such a sudden and dramatic event we shouldn’t be moved, or pause to reflect, or if so inclined to say a prayer. But instead, I first caution against painting Damar Hamlin as a victim. Life is a game of weighing pros and cons and choosing which risks you are willing to take and which you wish to avoid. Hamlin chose an inherently risky profession, with decidedly high rewards. Let’s honor that choice rather than paint him as an oppressed victim of a violent profession.
Secondly, I suggest we all take stock and recognize that if an exceptionally healthy 24-year-old can go to work one day and drop, even momentarily, dead of a heart attack, then who knows what the game of life has in store for the rest of us? Death is just a drive down the highway or a visit to the doctor for any of us. I think that is what stirred such raw emotion among commentators, fans, and players alike. Not the singularity of Hamlin’s collapse but the universality of it. The idea that it could have been me and it will be one day. Are you ready for your final play?
There once was a young man, healthy and strong. And He was engaged in a game of sorts, a high stakes game of life and death. He lived and then He died and then He rose in victory. One day He will return and settle the score. It could be today, it could be tomorrow, it could even be on a Monday night.