By Mike Longo Jr.
Athletic events are deemed entertainment. In the eyes of many, athletes male or female in any sport are finely tuned human machines capable of achieving the unimaginable. It is a game, a winner, a loser, along with an occasional tie. We are fans of our beloved team and all the superhero players on it. Shouting, screaming, yelling, supportive until the end, hopeful of an outcome appealing to us. With admittance, our hope is to witness incredible performances, amazing plays and a victory.
Catastrophic events such as medical emergencies are not a part of the equation. Unfortunately for the 70,000 fans in attendance and the millions watching on TV Jan. 2, the beginning of a new year, unfolded in horrific fashion at Cincinnati's Paycor Stadium as the Bengals hosted the Buffalo Bills in a pivotal matchup.
After what appeared to be a routine tackle, McKees Rocks native and Bills defensive back, Damar Hamlin got up and immediately collapsed on the turf.
Medical personnel from both sidelines rushed to the aid of Hamlin with Denny Kellington, Bills assistant athletic trainer, arriving first. As Hamlin lay motionless, not breathing, Kellington began administering CPR for some 9 minutes assisted by other medical personnel and the use of an AED (Automated External Defibrillator).
There was no my team versus your team, the stadium fell silent, people hugged, prayed out loud in groups, prayed silently as all became one. Players watched with blank stares, grown men reduced to tears hugging and comforting each other. They gathered in a circle to hit the ground on one knee, enlisting the help of a higher power, through the power of prayer. Studio announcers prayed together live on the air. Truly moving moments all geared to a young man most only now as no. 3 on an NFL Sunday or Monday.
No matter what higher power you believe in, what faith you believe in, its often said the Lord works in mysterious ways. On this night his work was done through all the trained professionals on that field. Their goal was achieved, a pulse was found and with assistance, Hamlin’s breathing was restored. The road ahead would be rocky, for now, hope springs eternal as not only a football community, but an entire nation takes a break from their norm to rally around this 24-year-old man.
Be it through the grace of god, power of prayer, positive energy or positive thinking Damar's care was transferred to another set of professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
We know all the stories of this remarkable miraculous recovery the first as Hamlin was able to use a pen and write asking the doctors "Did we win?" "Yes", the doctors told him, "You won the game of life". A question that will always be synonymous with Hamlin's amazing comeback.
Four days later he was able to video call his teammates at their meeting, speaking was low-toned and scratchy but head coach Sean McDermott said, "Seeing Damar on the screen is larger than life."
Three days later, being cleared by the medical staff, he was released from his Cincinnati hospital room and returned to Buffalo for admission to Buffalo General Medical Center and another round of testing.
Jan. 11, just a mere 10 days after the incident, Hamlin was discharged and cleared to continue his rehab at home and with the Bills.
Growing up in McKees Rocks, Hamlin was part of the Sto-Rox Little Vikings youth football system where he showcased his athletic abilities from a young age. As a parent, you always want better for your child and would move heaven and earth to make that happen. In many cases, a change may be the best move.
Hamlin opted to attend high school at Central Catholic for the education and possible notoriety where he would become a star athlete bringing major colleges to his home with scholarship offers. He chose to stay local and attend the University of Pittsburgh. Love of family and his community made that an easy choice. For his efforts on the gridiron, he was named co-captain in his final year.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a more caring, loving devoted person than Damar as the numerous dealings I have had with him from a media standpoint will support.
There's an old saying, "Never forget where you came from." Hamlin personified that statement even after entering the pro ranks. He continues to give back and spread love through his Chasing M's Foundation.
His non-profit organization started in 2020 as a toy drive and includes summer camps and school drives.
A statement posted on the foundation website states, " We're simply awestruck by the level of support over the last few days." A simple goal of raising $2,500 at its inception has now ballooned to a whopping $8,783,560 as of the writing of this article.
Former teammate Steelers Rookie Quarterback Kenny Picket summed it up as follows, "Damar is an unbelievable person, does so much for the community. A guy from Pittsburgh...could've gone anywhere. he wanted to stay home and we had a great run together."
Love is an easy word to say, however showing it is a totally different story. The love shown by this young man before and after his incident is simply astounding. In quotes from his verified Twitter account, Hamlin states, "Putting love into the world comes back 3x as much......thankful for everyone who has reached out and prayed. This will make me stronger on my road to recovery, keep praying for me. Watching the world come together around me was truly an amazing feeling. the same love you all have shown me is the same love that I plan to put back in the world and more."
Damar has certainly begun to do just that as he has released merchandise with the catchphrase "Did We Win." All proceeds will benefit first responders and the University of Cincinnati Trauma Center. As always, Hamlin continues to spread love and give back, a short week after his near-death experience.
The amount of support Hamlin received shows human potential even in a world that sometimes has gone crazy. The next time something scares you and seems impossible, drift back and remember how so many people with so many differences, from all over the country and world, with different beliefs, rallied in support of a football player.
Why? Simple because he is a human, as we remember that we are, also.