What seemed like an eternity on live television had passed since the Buffalo Bills security guard, 24-year-old Damar Hamlin, collapsed in a Cincinnati field after a hard blow to the chest. “Monday Night Football” had come to a standstill, and ESPN studio host Suzy Kolber was speechless, like everyone else tasked with speaking on air as emergency medical personnel tried to save Hamlin’s life. “There’s nothing more we can say,” he said with an ashen face. “I think we all feel emotions, we all pray together.” Then he paused and, in a bit of disbelief, made fun of a commercial break: “And we’ll be back.”
Sports fans in general, and football fans in particular, have suffered gruesome injuries over time—joints twisted in unnatural ways, and grown men writhing in pain as teammates gather meters away for the next game. What happened to Hamlin in front of millions of spectators on January 2 was a chilling reminder that silence and silence could be much worse. You could see it was different this time, because you could hear it: Hamlin fell silently to the ground and then lay there silently, and then the silence around him quickly spread from the playing field to the edges and then to the stadium. Eventually, he reached the broadcast booth where ESPN’s individual announcer, Joe Buck, allowed footage of players crying and an ambulance on the field to speak, and tried not to look too surprised by this league. The officials appeared intent on continuing the game. A broadcast production team has a complete playbook for these situations: an idea of which replay angles to show and how often, a list of bromides that announcers can use to ease the discomfort while we wait for the downed player to give us a signal. a reassuring thumbs up as you stretch from the field. But this time there was no confirmation. ESPN kept repeating the playbook over and over, until all we could see was his gimmick.
Late in the first quarter, it was around 8:55 PM when Hamlin had his first heart attack. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — the only person in the league with the authority to not only temporarily suspend the game, but also postpone it entirely — didn’t make it officially until 10:01 a.m. This left the corporate broadcaster with an hour of live television impossible to fill: The game was technically still going on, making it difficult to simply cut anything off ESPN2 or jump in to SportsCenter and its impeccable host, Scott Van. post. The network’s “Monday Night Football” team performed with extraordinary grace under these conditions. But for viewers, they were still an hour-long talking heads, aside from begging seasoned live personalities into their headphones to be taken off the air, admitting that there was nothing to be said. A live NFL broadcast is an unbelievably large, complex, and expensive operation that exists for the sole purpose of mass entertainment. Suddenly this purpose did not disappear; it was something that could not be spoken at the border.
Ad breaks were a mixed blessing—a respite for broadcasters whose own sentiments understandably continue to wane, but it’s a lousy time to sell light beer and an inappropriate reminder when there’s no news about Hamlin’s plight (which isn’t coming anytime soon). recently) and because there wasn’t a real football game (no decent people were in the mood to pick up on), that ad money was the only reason the cameras kept working. In other words, we were watching the dying commodification of a young man in real time. When Buck repeated some variation of the phrase “there’s nothing left to say at this point” for the second time, it sounded less than a directive for the production truck – let someone else swing for a while– and more like a reproach to the audience. Why are you still watching? Why didn’t you change the channel? Now what kind of person still cares about a football game?
More on The Downfall of Damar Hamlin
- ‘True Leader’:As a professional football player and community counselor, Damar Hamlin has achieved two of his life goals: getting to the NFL and helping others along the way.
- NFLs Violence Show : The appetite for football has never been higher, even as viewers ignore the damage the sport has done to players’ lives. Our columnist writes that Mr. Hamlin’s collapse should force rethinking.
- Danger throughout Sports:Mr. Hamlin’s collapse drew attention to his sudden cardiac arrest and the vulnerability of athletes from the youth leagues to the professional leagues.
- Faith and Football :Public religiosity gushing out from players and fans shows how Christianity was embedded in NFL culture beyond most sports.
This was uncharted territory, the man on the TV was more or less telling us to turn the TV off. The program itself was experiencing an existential crisis. There was no game to show, no update to Hamlin’s condition to share, no blackout. The moment Joe Buck said “CPR” was “Monday Night Football” it was over. But this could not end.
only 250 milesAll over Ohio, in a diverse sports universe separated by only a few TV channels, NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers’ Donovan Mitchell was flocking to it. 71 points against the Chicago Bulls. That was the highest single-game total in 17 years, making Mitchell one of the top seven players in NBA history to enter the 70s. Largely thanks to him, the Cavaliers will likely make it to the playoffs without LeBron James on the roster for the first time since 1998. On the emotional spectrum of sports fandom, Mitchell’s night was the opposite of what was pictured in Cincinnati: joy in the stands, brimming teammates on the bench, heightened delirium in the announcers’ voices. When the Cavaliers won in overtime, Mitchell’s teammates kept dousing him with water bottles as if to put out the flames, and then they all took a picture with the hero of the night.
That’s all the reasons we watch sports. But it didn’t just happen on the same night as Hamlin’s injury; The two events occurred in the key step during the same real-time clock. Many fans on social media experienced both dramas at the same time. While exchanging messages with my friends about Mitchell’s total bulge point – 58! 66! 69! 70! – I kept switching apps and scrolling through Twitter, where basketball game statistics sit alongside uninformed speculations about blunt arrhythmias and ghouls blaming the Covid vaccines for Hamlin’s downfall. This wasn’t just any regular season NFL game either: The Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, Super Bowl contenders and their matchups had big playoff results, and that’s ” Monday Night Football “A multi-billion dollar American institution. Then, suddenly, by a quick consensus, the game no longer mattered. platform someone to unite in disgust. (It even managed to offend former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe, who Bayless hosted on Fox Sports 1’s “Undisputed,” enough for Sharpe to ditch him for the next morning’s broadcast.)
But social media has also created avenues for catharsis. Hamlin was an unannounced sixth-round pick from the University of Pittsburgh near his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pa. He broke the Bills’ starting line-up only in September, after first rope safety Micah Hyde suffered a neck injury. leaving the stadium by ambulance. In 2020, Hamlin set up a GoFundMe at McKees Rocks to support getting back home with toys, and that Monday afternoon, just before the game, he raised nearly $2,500. By Friday, the desperation we all felt for Hamlin had poured more than $8 million into his toy car.
But on Monday night, you can find Mitchell soaking wet and smiling on a television broadcast. Another had Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, cheeks wet with tears. I couldn’t decide if it was inhumane to juggle these two emotions, to compartmentalize them on the fly, or if that was closer to the definition of being human. I thought mostly of Hamlin. I thought, how would I feel if I was on the floor, how I would love for people to look away, stop filming, turn off the TV, go do something else, go and watch Donovan Mitchell drop the 71 on the floor. The Bulls – Everything but watching me fight for my life in front of my teammates, friends and mom during “Monday Night Football”. And I thought that Hamlin had woken up, opened his eyes, and heard his toy car.
Source photos: Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images
Devin Gordon is a writer based in Massachusetts. He is the author of “The Many Ways to Lose: The Incredible True Story of the Worst Team in Sports, the New York Mets.”