Damar Hamlin: Now not time for kneejerk reactions

Some — probably many —  people feel that sports are a microcosm of life, representing moments in time of the world in which we live. 

And like life, some of those “moments” in time can come in shocking form, both good and bad. 

The key to remember is that as a microcosm, or even metaphor, for life, sports show that no matter how bad — rarely even horrific — a situation can be, there’s always hope that the next moment to get better, be it next play, next game or next season. That’s a big part of the reason so many of us intertwine our emotions in the game or games we love.

And as horrible as what so many of us saw on national television Monday night during the Buffalo Bills at the Cincinnati Bengals NFL football game, those special moments, both good and bad, are why we have to hope the next moment will soon be better, especially as so many of us continue praying this morning for Bills defense back Damar Hamlin, who remains in a Cincinnati ICU unit fighting for his life.

By now many if not most of us have seen the horrific outcome of that moment that lasted only a brief millisecond that for that first instant seemed so innocuous. 

It all happened as Hamlin made a tackle on Bengals receiver Tee Higgins before quickly jumping to his feet. But just as fast as Hamlin jumped up, he suddenly wobbled before collapsing backwards only a split second after making the tackle.

Then,  for what seemed a lifetime, many of us watched horrified as emergency medical personnel performed CPR before Hamiln was rushed to the hospital he remains in this morning.

Remember how this column started — with sports serving as a microcosm of life.

That’s been proven all too true in the days since that event as many people, doing as so many do today in this world in which we live, offer judgmental and kneejerk reactions instead of focusing on the only things that matters right now — Hamlin recovering enough to know his life is no longer in danger.

In an age when football is under much consternation largely due to the plethora of concussions players seem to be suffering more and more frequently, this recent incident has sent some people declaring full-contact football should become a thing of the past immediately.

Those thoughts are not about the lessons of life sports can teach us.

For years now some parents have no longer let their sons play football because of the danger involved. And some say they no longer watch the game because of the physical and mental toll it takes on those supposedly simply just playing a game.

And that’s their fair right and choice. But it all goes much deeper than that. That microcosm of life known as sports includes tragedy and death as much intertwined with the games we play and cheer for as our lives themselves.

What happened to Hamlin was not unprecedented — football has seen tragedy before. In 1970, Detroit Lions receiver Chuck Hughes collapsed and died while jogging back to the huddle in a game against the Chicago Bears. He was pronounced dead shortly later at a Detroit hospital. It was later determined a blood clot had caused the heart attack.

In recent years we’ve seen high school football players in nearby Union and Franklin parishes collapse and die during football games or practice. It’s rare. It’s horrific. But it’s all part of the microcosm of life. It can happen. Just as any of us could leave our Earthbound life at any given moment. Our fate simply isn’t up to us, no matter what kind of precautions we take.

What has been reported that may have happened to Hamlin — a condition called commotio cordis — is most commonly seen in sports like baseball, hockey and lacrosse that involve blunt projectiles that impact the chest wall, like a ball or a puck. But while extremely rare, it has happened in all of those sports.

It has been called by some experts to be as likely as getting struck by lightning. For it to have happened, the impact must occur over or around the heart at a strong impact occurring during the vulnerable period of the cardiac cycle (which is approximately 20 milliseconds in length) right before the peak of the T-wave on an electrocardiogram.

Had the blow to Hamlin’s chest happened a millisecond earlier or later, he most likely would have simply jogged back the huddle. 

What we do know is Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest.

But now is not the time for negativity. It’s not the time to turn the gridiron into a sport for flag football only. It’s not the time to piggyback the problem of concussions onto the current matter. Scientists, doctors and inventors continue working daily to try to make those concussion issues less common.

Instead, now is a time to pray for Hamlin’s healing, and a time to remember that sports truly are a microcosm of life both good and bad. Many of us will always remember what we watched happen Monday night and the impact it had on us.

But we will also remember that as a microcosm of life, sports help us prepare for all life experiences, good or bad, frustrating or thrilling, happy or sad.

And we will continue praying for Hamlin, hoping to soon see him become victorious in his fight for his life.