According to news reports, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, remains in critical condition (Tuesday). I hadn’t watched much professional football this year, but yesterday night, I sat in my chair, surfed to ESPN, and started watching the game at approximately the 7:01 mark of the first quarter. I was reading some prework material and missed the play that downed Hamlin. Looking up, I rewound the game to see what had occurred.

Upon viewing the play, the former medic inside knew what had happened. “Cardiac event,” I horridly whispered. Outside of watching professional soccer players experiencing cardiac events in old YouTube reruns, I have seen this type of incident only twice. And, I vivdly remember both.

Both incidents were decades apart. My father and I watched Chuck Hughes die on October 24, 1971. Mr. Hughes suffered a blood clot during a game against the Chicago Bears. Hughes caught a yard pass with the Lions down 28-23. A few plays later, and with 62 seconds left in the game, Hughes fell face-down to the ground, clutching his chest. An autopsy revealed the game-time heart attack was probably his second. Unfortunately, Hughes’s first attack appeared to have gone unnoticed. The second time occured on February 11, 2020. In a game against the Anaheim Ducks, I watched Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester’s cardiac event as he sat on the bench. Players from both teams cleared the bench area so emergency medical personnel could respond. Bouwmeester survived but never played again. 

Mr. Hamlin’s event shook me to the core. Watching Hamlin’s resuscitation reminded me of Hughes. And then I remembered my own risk. My healthcare summary told a similar story. “Retrolisthesis of the L4 on L5, L4 on L5 and L5-S1 degenerative disks, demyelination plaques in the spine and brain (Multiple Sclerosis), severe left neural stenosis at C3-C4, degenerative disease at C5-C6, osteoarthritis at C6-C7, and heart disease, with evidence of a silent heart event (i.e., heart attack).” A ‘silent heart attack’ usually presents no symptoms, mild symptoms or symptoms people don’t connect to a heart attack. It’s sometimes referred to as a myocardial infarction, meaaning the heart isn’t getting oxygen. This injures your heart. Like Hughes, my silent heart attack links me to a higher risk of heart failure. I hadn’t thought about it until seeing Hamlin’s cardiac event.

Similar to what Hughes learned in football, the ethos instilled by during military service taught me to play on: A teammate breaks a leg, gets shot, or dies, the mission goes on. Likewise, the football game continues if a player receives a concussion, experiences a neck injury, or stumbles off. Football is violent and should remind everyone that life is fierce, and violence is intrinsic to life. The question I asked myself last night is one that all should ask: How does one ever resume living after witnessing such a traumatic event?

Football is about abuse. Like Roman Gladiators, the N.F.L. has seen numerous player suicides from head trauma. Then there are front-page news stories of lawsuits, congressional investigations, domestic-violence scandals, and players addicted to painkillers. Yet, football’s popularity remains undiminished. As Louisa Thomas of The New Yorker noted that whether fans and players care to admit it, football’s appeal is rooted in risk. Football is a dance between skill and force—and the suspense of every snap.

Some commentators hyped the availability of percise medical skill available to any N.F.L. player. Others discussed how the N.F.L. upgraded protective equipment for its players. Some offered customary prayers. Television doctors expounded upon the availability of CPR training as one reporter whined about the game being suspended (W.T.F.?). Another social media dipstick referenced COVID vaccines killing athletes (I’m not linking the citation here. Google it yourself).

So, what happens now? Very little. As in life, football goes on. The New England Patriots will play against the Buffalo Bills in week eighteen. Sure, there will be a customary moment of silence, as does the dance between skill and force. 

Should it?

Let’s think about that.