Opinion: NFL’s Response to Damar Hamlin On-Field Collapse is a Sign of a Larger Problem

After the league initially demanded the players return to finish the game, the NFL’s response to the traumatic moment shows the lack of empathy for workplace injury from companies.

On Monday, Jan 2, the sports world experienced one of the most frightening sights it has seen in a long time – Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, in the middle of the first quarter, collapsed on the field during a Monday Night matchup versus the Cincinnati Bengals. With Hamlin taking a big hit while making a tackle the play before, the Bills’ Medical Staff immediately rushed out and performed CPR. Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored, and, within five minutes, an ambulance arrived on the field. Sixteen minutes after he collapsed, Hamlin was placed on a stretcher and into the ambulance, where he was transported to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, according to ESPN. 

After Hamlin’s exit, Bills players and staff gathered in a prayer circle, kneeling after the emotional moment. Players shed tears and had shocked looks on their faces. Cincinnati Bengals players were also hesitant to return to play. “You see the ambulance come out and [think] he’s just getting carted off. Then you see their players coming out of the circle crying and you immediately start to realize it’s something different,” said Bengals Defensive Tackle D.J. Reader. “Nobody wanted to continue to play the game in a situation like that,” Bengals Quarterback Joe Burrow said. 

Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott and Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor met on the field to discuss what to do, and decided to pause the game and go to the locker room. Roughly an hour later, the NFL decided to postpone the game and not finish that night. However, as ESPN reported, NFL officials told the players to warm up to prepare to resume play immediately after Hamlin’s ambulance left the field. On the Wednesday after the game, NFL President of Football Operations Troy Vincent denied this, according to CBS Sports. 

The NFL’s initial response to Hamlin’s collapse reflects a lack of emotional empathy toward workers that exists not just in the NFL, but everywhere. The NFL is notorious for treating its players poorly: players are rushed off concussion protocol to play earlier than they should, which leads to increased risk of concussions. Just this season, in September, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa played a Thursday night game against Cincinnati despite taking a hit to the head four days before, and suffered a scary concussion that night and was carted off, saying he lost consciousness at a point, per Joe Schad. Team owners have also treated players with disrespect, such as when Houston Texans owner Bob McNair compared players to prisoners during owners meetings, per ESPN. 

In other workplaces, workers are seen as simply means of production. On Dec 28, an elderly worker died in an Amazon warehouse in Colorado. Instead of stopping production, managers stacked boxes around the body until coroners arrived, according to Michael Sainato. “I cannot even begin to say how upset and angry I am at the disrespect from human life from Amazon and our general manager Nick McKeen,” said an anonymous worker. “That money is so important that we are literally walking over a dead body to make you more money?”

Despite the frightening sight from Hamlin’s collapse, one noticeable positive was the solidarity shown from, not just Bills players, but Bengals players and other NFL players as well. Despite pressure from the league to resume play, players and coaches from both teams came together and recognized the emotional significance of the situation, and stopped playing to show support for Hamlin and their own well-being. Workers around the world, at Amazon or any other company, can see the impact of coming together, and the power of worker solidarity.