Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest after making a tackle during Monday night’s game, causing the NFL to suspend a pivotal game against the Cincinnati Bengals that quickly lost significance in the aftermath of a scary scene that unfolded in front of a national television audience.
“Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals. His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the UC Medical Center for further testing and treatment,” the Bills said in a statement released early Tuesday. “He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.”
The 24-year-old Hamlin was administered CPR on the field, ESPN reported during the broadcast. Teammates surrounded Hamlin, shielding him from public view. Many were weeping and praying while Hamlin was treated on the field by team and independent medical personnel and local paramedics. He was taken by ambulance to University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Teammate Stefon Diggs later went to visit Hamlin at the hospital while fans of both teams gathered outside, holding lit candles and praying.
Hamlin was hurt while tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins on a seemingly routine play that didn’t appear unusually violent.
Higgins was running with the ball on a 13-yard pass from Joe Burrow when he led with his right shoulder, hitting Hamlin in the chest. Hamlin then wrapped his arms around Higgins’ shoulders and helmet to drag him down. Hamlin quickly got to his feet, appeared to adjust his face mask with his right hand, and then fell backward about three seconds later and lay motionless.
Hamlin was down for 19 minutes while receiving medical attention. WXIX-TV in Cincinnati reported that Hamlin required an automated external defibrillator (AED) in addition to CPR on the field.
It took the NFL about one hour after Hamlin collapsed to officially suspend the game because league executives were gathering information and communicating with referee Shawn Smith, coaches from both teams and the NFL Players Association.
Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, said that the NFL’s Emergency Action Plan was activated. Vincent communicated with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith. Dawn Aponte, the league’s chief football administrative officer, was at the game and communicated with Bills coach Sean McDermott and Bengals coach Zac Taylor and the referee.
“It was fluid and things were changing by the minute,” Vincent said. “It was obvious on the phone that the emotions were extremely high. It was a very volatile situation.”
Vincent refuted ESPN’s broadcast report that both teams were given a five-minute warmup period to resume playing.
“I’m not sure where that came from,” Vincent said. “It never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive. That’s not a place we should ever be in.”
Hamlin spent five years of college at Pittsburgh — his hometown — and appeared in 48 games for the Panthers over that span. He was a second-team All-ACC performer as a senior, was voted a team captain and was picked to play in the Senior Bowl.
Drafted in the sixth round by the Bills in 2021, Hamlin played in 14 games as a rookie and then became a starter this season after Micah Hyde was injured.
In 2020, Hamlin began organizing an annual Christmas toy drive in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pa. By early Tuesday, a community toy drive organized by Hamlin had surged to more than US$3.1 million in donations. His stated goal was US$2,500.
Bills offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, in a post on Twitter, described Hamlin as a “kind, caring, extremely hard worker.” Saffold wrote that Hamlin is “loyal, honest and can always put a smile on your face. He is more than an athlete, he is a son and brother.”
The Bills-Bengals game has major playoff implications. Both teams are battling for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Bills (12-3) entered the game in the top spot while the Bengals (11-4) had a chance to clinch the AFC North with a victory and also were in the mix for the No. 1 seed along with Kansas City (13-3).
The Bengals led 7-3 in the first quarter when the game was stopped.
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, said during a conference call shortly after midnight that a time frame for resuming the game was not being considered at the time.
“Our concern is for the player and his well-being. At the appropriate time, I’m sure that we’ll have a conversation around the next steps regarding the game,” Miller said.
The NFL is entering the final week of the regular season and the playoffs are scheduled to begin Jan. 14.
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