I know, I’m an education columnist. So, what does the “Monday Night Football” game between the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals have to do with public education? The answer: nothing!
However, I consider myself fortunate to have played the game of football at every level, including the National Football League. For eight seasons during the late 70s and early 80s, I was a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns.
Now I’m fortunate to have a platform where periodically I can share my thoughts about something very dear to me outside of public education. Thank you TSD!
The football world was shaken to its core by the tragic injury to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin. After making a tackle, Hamlin fell to the ground and suffered cardiac arrest. He was resuscitated on the field and rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
It was chilling.
On Thursday came the welcomed word that Hamlin, 24, was making “remarkable improvement” and that he was “neurologically intact” although still in critical condition. Hamlin’s agent, Ronald Butler, told The Associated Press that Hamlin was awake and had been able to grip the hands of family members at his hospital bedside.
His injury resonated deeply within the NFL community and the sports community as a whole –fans, players, owners, and coaches. EVERYONE!
Professional football is a violent and inherently dangerous sport. Unfortunately, for better or worse, injuries are an integral part of the game. Still, the type of injury Hamlin suffered elevates the issue to an entirely different level.
My heart sank when Hamlin collapsed. I worried and experienced the same kind of emotions television viewers saw reflected by the players on the field. It’s like I was there with them, in real-time.
I felt my heart race as I became a bit emotional as well.
We sometimes forget how violent the game of football really is. We get caught up in the excitement of seeing our favorite players perform and in rooting for our favorite teams.
While what we witnessed earlier this week was rare, we players come close during the course of every game to suffering severe neck or back injuries, brain trauma, and/or an array of other debilitating, sometimes career-ending injuries.
I love the game of football! The American people love the game. Yet, an injury such as this should bring reality freshly into view.
Over the years, team owners and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have made protecting players a top priority. The NFLPA has done an excellent job guarding those priorities.
I served as our team’s union representative for several years and it has not always been that way.
These days, 25 to 30 medical care professionals staff each NFL game. Every stadium is fully equipped with personnel and medical equipment to deal with any medical emergencies.
The medical teams meet for over an hour before each game and follow strict protocols to ensure an injured player has the best medical attention possible – especially when an injury causes a player to lose consciousness as did Hamlin.
I remember being hit once so hard that I lost consciousness. I laid there for a few seconds, regained consciousness, got back on my feet, and ran to the sideline. I got no particular medical attention. I played the rest of the game, wobbly at times, but I finished the game.
The NFL has come a long way.
Many NFL players do not experience the full effects of all the hits they endure until well after they have retired from the game.
The medical benefits and attention the NFL gives to its retired players are second to none and get better each time the league and players emerge from the bargaining table.
The glamour of pro football is such that many young boys dream of playing at that high level, making lots of money, and basking in fame. I work with teenage boys through my nonprofit, The Brotherhood. Many of the boys have NFL aspirations. And I’m sure they were not deterred by what happened to Hamlin. Trust me, their NFL aspirations are still intact. They see so much life and death drama in their lives regularly that for them, “this too shall pass.”
Where do we go from here?
Well, NFL owners will review the league’s response to the incident and identify areas in which they can improve preparations for football games.
The medical teams in particular will review every detail of their responses before, during, and after the incident.
The players union will do likewise and maybe prepare recommendations that might help prevent a recurrence.
Players and coaches will have plenty of discussions about what happened on that football field, but will resume business as usual in preparation for the next football game.
Heavens’ doors have been inundated with prayers for Demar Hamlin from across the land; thankfully, God heard our prayers. We’re still praying for him and his family, with a full recovery in mind.
And while we are at it, let’s pray that there is nothing like this to witness again on any football field at any level.
(Follow me, TSD’s education columnist, on Twitter @curtisweathers. Email me at [email protected].)