Damar Hamlin, football safety and what we’re missing in the ‘violent spectacle’ debate

Collisions, tackles and high-impact hits are nothing new in football. But America wasn’t prepared to witness Monday night’s tragedy, when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest following a tackle. The 24-year-old collapsed suddenly on the field, causing the NFL to suspend the game.  Doctors said Thursday that Hamlin was making substantial progress and his neurologic condition and function are intact.

The play, according to sports experts, appeared to be routine. “It’s something that could have occurred to anyone on the field,” says Brian Turner, Xavier University of Louisiana psychologist and former college football player.

Yet, it’s rare that a player collapses with cardiac arrest so millions were shocked, players traumatized, as medical personnel used CPR on an unconscious Hamlin for nearly 10 minutes.

Along with an outpouring of support, the shocking injury was a wake-up call to some viewers regarding the “violence” of contact sports. “The View” co-host Alyssa Farah Griffin weighed in Wednesday, saying she now would not “want (her) boys to play football.”
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was in critical condition after suffering cardiac arrest.

It’s a longstanding debate – but one that sports psychologists say is typically oversimplified.

“Football certainly poses risks, but I have a hard time saying any sport or physical activity is ‘bad’ and ‘dangerous’ as a global statement,” says Lindsay DiStefano, department head and professor in the University of Connecticut’s Department of Kinesiology.

Every sport comes with challenges, both physical and mental. It’s something athletes, coaches and professionals take into consideration to protect the team. But those who have the privilege to minimize football as “sheer violence” are overlooking its significance, experts say: For many, it’s a chance to use your athleticism to achieve an education. To make money. To change your life.

“It’s the dream come true for the very few who are able to make it (to the NFL),” DiStefano adds. “A dream that can open their eyes to the different opportunities that could be available them.”

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What most people are missing in the football safety debate: ‘We love the life it’s given’

The risk of injury is all-too-common in contact sports like football: Sprains and strains, muscle tears and concussions and on the more extreme end, traumatic brain injuries or sudden cardiac arrest.

“We understand the risks that come with it,” Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mason Cole told The Athletic. “But we love this game. We love the life it’s given a lot of us. It’s a job that we’ve chosen.”
Bills players huddle and pray after teammate Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field after making a tackle against the Bengals on Monday night.

For high school and college football players, athletic scholarships can provide an opportunity for higher education. For the few that go professional, a way to make money and create generational wealth. (Take, for instance Michael Oher, whose journey from foster care to the University of Mississippi to NFL stadiums inspired the 2009 film “The Blind Side”).

“Individuals who are in areas with low resources might not have access to go to college or pursue professions where they can generate a lot of income. So for the few that make it (to the NFL), that’s substantial,” DiStefano says.

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