On the second day of the new year, one of the most anticipated games on the schedule of this country’s most popular sport came to a standstill in the first quarter, when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed after making a tackle against Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins. Hamlin was given CPR, loaded onto an ambulance that was on the field, and taken to the hospital.
Life can change in a second. On Monday night, the world watched as Roger Goodell wasted 3,600 of them.
Worry and concern spread like wildfire. Anxiety was at an all-time high. Each tick of the clock tock’d louder than the one before it.
The worst commissioner in all of professional sports more than earned his reputation as players, fans, and media members waited for the man who makes north of $63 million per year to make the easiest decisions of his career.
But yet, we waited.
Time flies, but it also crawls. When you’re having a good time, an hour can feel like five minutes. But when you’re waiting, five minutes can feel like an hour. And after over 60 minutes of anticipation, the decision was finally made to postpone the game. A decision that only needed a second of consideration was unnecessarily delayed.
The NFL’s eventual statement read:
“Tonight’s Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game has been postponed after Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin collapsed, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced. Hamlin received immediate medical attention on the field by team and independent medical staff and local paramedics. He was then transported to a local hospital where he is in critical condition. Our thoughts are with Damar and the Buffalo Bills. We will provide more information as it becomes available. The NFL has been in constant communication with the NFL Players Association which is in agreement with postponing the game.”
To make matters worse, there’s a he-said/he-said battle going on right now. During Monday night’s broadcast, ESPN’s Joe Buck announced that both teams had five minutes to warm up before play could be resumed. Later that evening, Troy Vincent — the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations — denied that was the case.
But given the NFL’s past, this is a battle the league will never win. This season has been arguably the worst when it comes to the mismanagement of player safety, particularly when it comes to concussion protocols. For decades we’ve watched as this league — and this sport — has transformed into the ultimate example of “play on,” despite what’s taken place on the field. The NFL has done this to itself because even though Vincent and the league may be telling the truth in the case that Buck got it wrong, the benefit of the doubt is something they haven’t earned.
Over the last few months, one of the most rabid fan bases in the NFL has suffered — a lot. We’ve watched as Buffalo dealt with a racist mass shooting, a catastrophic winter storm that killed at least 39 people, and now this — as we’re all praying for good news about Hamlin’s condition.
At some point, Monday night’s contest will either be resumed or forfeited. There’s only one week left before the postseason begins, and 2020 proved that the NFL will do whatever is necessary to get to the Super Bowl — even if it means playing during the peak of a pandemic after millions have died across the globe.
Hopefully, Roger Goodell, the league, the players, the media, and fans all learned an important lesson on Monday night. Which is that football is literally just a game — it’s never truly that deep. But, the fact that it took Damar Hamlin’s life to hang in the balance before so many people understood that, says so much about our society. Monday night was an unfortunate much-needed wake-up call.