Monday, January 2 was a momentous day in sports. From 17-year-old Connor Bedard setting five Canadian records en route to a spectacular quarterfinal overtime goal for Team Canada at the World Juniors, to Donovan Mitchell dropping 71 points for the Cleveland Cavaliers in their overtime victory over the Chicago Bulls, excitement was in the air.
That excitement, however, was marred by the death of the world’s greatest rally-cross driver Ken Block, the leaked footage of UFC president Dana White’s drunken altercation with his wife at a New Year’s Eve event and then the heart-wrenching storyline that played out in the Week 17 airing of Monday Night Football on ESPN.
The 12-3 Buffalo Bills had travelled to Cincinnati to take on the 11-4 Bengals in what was anticipated to be the “game of the week.” Two star quarterbacks, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, were set to battle it out on the gridiron in a showdown between two American Football Conference first-place teams. But just a quarter-and-a-half into the game, the storyline changed drastically.
With 5:58 remaining in the second quarter, Bills’ defensive back Damar Hamlin stepped up to make an open-field tackle on Bengals’ wide receiver Tee Higgins. He did so, but moments after standing up after the tackle, he collapsed to the turf near the 50-yard line. Medics and trainers rushed to his aid as the seriousness of his situation was discovered. CPR was immediately performed, and an AED was used to restart Hamlin’s still heart.
Within minutes, the on-call paramedics backed their ambulance up to centrefield and took Hamlin away to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for immediate treatment as fans, spectators, and professionals alike watched on in disbelief. The game was initially postponed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as the sheer and very visible feeling of unease set in across the faces of all in attendance. Ultimately, the game was cancelled.
There has never been an evening in recent (or even long-term) memory that has seen such a united front from athletes of nearly every sport and walk of life around the world join as one following a routine play-turned-catastrophic.
Immediate reaction took over social media, as Hamlin became the No. 1 trending topic across three different continents. It wasn’t just news of the incident that went viral, but rather the prayerful response to Hamlin’s condition. Over the next 24 hours, prayer circles, candlelight vigils, social media messages, hospital camp-outs and donations poured in all over the inter-web. Players spoke passionately about their brother, while urging others to continue praying for good news in Hamlin’s hopeful recovery. All 32 NFL teams changed their Twitter profile pictures to Hamlin’s No. 3 jersey and the wording “Pray for Damar.”
Former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky went on air on ESPN’s NFL Live and stopped the episode midway through its production, bowed his head, closed his eyes and prayed out loud for 45 seconds as his fellow show hosts willingly gave him the floor.
Hamlin, a Christian, had created a Go-Fund-Me page back in December of 2020 as a way of purchasing toys for underprivileged children in advance of the Christmas season. He had set an initial goal of $2,500.00. Supporters from across the NFL and around the world found his page and have since made donations to the tune of $8 million.
“As I embark on my journey to the NFL, I will never forget where I come from and I am committed to using my platform to positively impact the community that raised me,” Hamlin wrote when creating the Go-Fund-Me campaign. “I created The Chasing M’s Foundation as a vehicle that will allow me to deliver that impact, and the first program is the 2020 Community Toy Drive. Thank you so much for supporting me on and off the field. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with you to help make the holiday season a little brighter for the kids in our community.”
With over 200,000 donors and $8 million raised in half a week, Hamlin’s family provided an update to the Go-Fund-Me page, citing extreme generosity and support while Damar remained in critical condition at the hospital.
“This fundraiser was initially established to support a toy drive for Damar’s community, sponsored by the Chasing M’s Foundation. However, it has received renewed support in light of Damar’s current battle and we can’t thank all of you enough,” the update read. “Your generosity and compassion mean the world to us. If you would like to show your support and contribute to Damar’s community initiatives and his current fight, this is the place to do so… Damar created The Chasing M’s Foundation to use as a vehicle to bring lasting impact to his community. The foundation supports toy drives, back-to-school drives, kids camps, and more.”
When asked why he felt so passionate about his cause back in 2021, Hamlin told GoLongTD.com that most of what he does comes from off-the-cuff decision-making through God’s direction.
“It’s all natural. It’s all genuine from the heart,” he said. “It’s not even stuff I have planned out. It’ll be things that just pop up in my head and I’m going to make sure it happens. I feel like that’s God talking to me. I really feel like that’s what my purpose is. That’s why He put me here. That’s why He made me make it to the NFL besides everybody that I lost. Everyone. That’s why I’m the one. He knows my heart. He knows my intentions. It’s all pure. That’s really what I stand on.”
Featured on the podcast One Bills Live this past November, Hamlin spoke about the opportunity he had been given to play in the NFL, and to be able to do so alongside a friend from his childhood and early football days, Dane Jackson. The segment hit a whole lot deeper when played in current context:
“It’s a super blessing, having someone like Dane there with me. It’s so surreal; I cherish it. I can’t even describe it, but I cherish it every second that I can,” Hamlin said. “We just had our prayer, our defensive back prayer we do every Wednesday. And he was next to me, and I just grabbed his hand a little bit harder, because you never know when the last day could be that you get to experience something like this. So, I’m just cherishing it every moment I can.”
In the immediate days following his arrival at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Hamlin continued taking significant steps forward in his recovery. His breathing tube has since been removed, and he has been able to speak with family, friends and teammates. Although the road ahead will be difficult, the sporting world will never forget the incredible impact that faith, prayer and fellowship can have in life and death situations.
His mother is urging his supporters to continue saying their prayers.
“To the NFL and to the fans all over the world, #DamarHamlinStrong, prayer works. Keep my son and my family in your prayers as we continue to fight this tough battle.”