Today America gasps at the events of last night’s Monday Night Football incident, in which Damar Hamlin fell to the ground after a tackle, unresponsive. We now know that Hamlin’s heart stopped on the field, and from a technical standpoint, he was dead for a period of time. The Buffalo Bills just released this statement;
“Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in the Buffalo Bills’ game versus the Cincinnati Bengals. His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.”
Hamlin remains this morning in critical condition, and the Nation’s social media and news outlets are full of prayer requests, analysis, and pundits opining about how the NFL got this right or wrong. The game was halted, and many fans wanted it to go on. No doubt this stoppage of play, out of respect and concern for Hamlin, is a watershed moment for the league. Stopping a game is unprecedented. In years past, players were carted off quickly and with haste so as not to highlight the violent and deadly nature of the game. This is new, this stoppage. Does this mean we will always stop games when a tragedy occurs? Who knows, but this morning’s debate rages as quickly as the prayers are coming in.
Having been a sports writer for 15 years for Yahoo Sports and others, I have seen this before. High School players are killed yearly on the gridiron from brain trauma, other game-related injuries, and sometimes natural causes. Just the concept of the game, which is to physically dominate and hit your opponent so hard that they will quit, is one of violence. Of course, scoring and strategy and all of that are the finer points. But football’s beginnings were that of an annual fight in a field that started post-civil war in the Ivy League. Men from the North and South met on a field and beat each other at the start of the school year to shed aggression and violence to avoid issues later. Eventually, a ball and some rules were added to create the game. Football comes by its violent roots honestly.
Hillsboro, Oregon, is home to many Friday Night football games. Hillsboro Stadium was the location of a game in 2010 in which Central Catholic High School football star Hayward Demison returned to the football field after dying on the field one week earlier in West Linn. Demison’s collapse after scoring a 45-year touchdown was followed by his collapsing onto the turf. Athletic trainers were brought in to assist him but were unable to revive him. As they tried to figure out what was happening, a cardiac nurse named Lisa Lyver came onto the field. She immediately realized his heart had stopped and that she had to act quickly. Without a defibrillator available, her CPR compressions were his only shot. She knew that there was no way Hayward would live long enough for paramedics to get to him. While the odds of restarting his heart were slim, the skilled nurse miraculously restarted his heart. Doctors would later say that her actions and his return to life beat all the medical odds.
Incredibly most people in the audience did not know what happened, and once his heart restarted, he was removed from the field and even gave the thumbs up to the crowd. The game continued with little drama, and Lyver returned to the stands. What she did, however, was a miracle of all miracles- she brought Hayward back. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was cared for and diagnosed with a heart defect that had led to his collapse. In the coming weeks and months, Hayward would not only return to school and the football field, but he went on to play at Southern Oregon University.
Brain Trauma. heart issues, and broken necks cripple and take the lives of many football players every year across America. Hayward’s story made the news, and it made people think. The game of football did not, in his case, cause his heart to stop, but it was the way it happened and the incident itself that has so many similarities to this event last night.
Watch below Hayward Demison’s return to the football field at Hillsboro Stadium just one week later in one of the most emotional pieces of film I have ever shot. I got to know him well, and believe me when I say that he has so many characteristics that make him an amazing person. Damar Hamlin is much like Hayward- and we hope that the care and medical attention given to him last night to revive him has a similar outcome. We hope Damar comes back to his life as Hayward did. The league did the right thing to stop the game, and this debate is healthy. Defibrillators are now required on all sidelines in Oregon, which was an important outcome of Hayward’s story and the lessons learned.