The NFL needs to do more after Damar Hamlin’s accident

The NFL needs to do more after Damar Hamlin’s accident

The NFL regular season is rich with breaking sports news, like Aaron Rodgers’ Day 1 Achilles injury that sidelined him all year. Or the Jets’ recent win over the Eagles, the first in franchise history. Amid the wins, losses and injuries, it’s easy to forget the past painful moments that shaped the NFL.

On January 2, 2023, Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin suffered a heart attack midway through a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It was more than just a potential career-ending accident; The play was a life or death situation. The sports world stood still as they waited to see if Hamlin would recover. The Bills-Bengals game was suspended, and players from both teams united in prayer on the field.

Several days later, Hamlin woke up from his coma. Likewise, the incident was a wake-up call to players, coaches and fans alike that football is more than just a game. Often times, while watching teams go at each other on the field, we forget that these players are real people with lives and families off the field. We get so lost in the aggressiveness of the game that we forget that players are human. Although football is an inherently physical sport, we must protect the safety of the players at all costs.

This is especially important given the recent age statistics in the NFL. The number of midfielders in their early 20s has increased dramatically this season. According to Pro Football Reference data, “The decline in the average age of quarterbacks in Week 1 from 2017 (30.3 years) to 2023 (27.9) is the largest ever seen in any six-year period since 1950.” Take football players Zach Wilson, Brock Purdy, Anthony Richardson and Bryce Young, all under 25. Serious injuries can disrupt these young men’s lives and harm their futures, on and off the field.

At the beginning of October, Hamlin played his first game back after the injury against the Miami Dolphins. Although the player was met with cheers from fans and teammates on the field, the momentous occasion seemed to get lost amid the actual match results. The Bills defeated the Dolphins, who currently sit in first place in the American Football Conference (AFC) East, 48-20.

Some concrete changes have been made within the NFL to prevent injuries like Hamlin’s from occurring on the field.

“The type of accident Hamlin had was unavoidable. It was a cardiac arrest due to a heart defect, based on the location and force of the blow,” NFL agent Tara De Luca said. “It was a routine play, not an illegal tackle. I don’t think any specific changes were needed because Hamlin had proper chest and heart protection.”

In August 2023, VICIS helmets were introduced to all 32 NFL teams to prevent concussions. The new technology reduces the severity of head impact due to the soft shell.

Damar Hamlin #3 from Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin looks on before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Highmark Stadium on October 26, 2023, in Orchard Park, New York
Rich Barnes/Getty Images

According to De Luca, at the league’s annual meeting in March, the NFL updated its helmet rule so that players cannot use any part of the helmet to force contact with an opponent’s head or neck area. Additionally, Guardian caps (helmet covers) are now required in practice for multiple positions throughout the entire season, not just training camp.

“The NFL’s new Guardian Caps rule mandates the use of Guardian Caps during every preseason, regular season, and postseason practice that involves contact,” NFL agent Joe Sanfilippo explained. “This requires specific position groups, including linemen, linebackers, linebackers, and linebackers, to wear to reduce the force of impact during helmet hits.”

NFL agent Stephen Fanio said more grass fields are being implemented to prevent breakage and sprains. As of now, there is about a 50-50 split between stadiums with turf and those without grass. “I think this is going to be the next big thing for the NFL Players Association to work on,” he said.

But what about increasing the medical staff? Or more routine health screenings, especially for players with underlying health conditions?

When it comes to the NFL and player safety, Hamlin isn’t part of the conversation — he hasn’t been included for a while, other than a quick appearance on screen sitting from the sidelines. He struggles to stay relevant through his own means and through his charity Chasing M’s Foundation. The NFL appears to have pushed its name out of the limelight in favor of promoting the entertainment value of football that it knows fans enjoy.

Although football is an entertaining sport, we must keep in mind that players like Hamlin frequently expose their bodies to physical trauma. Player safety is a growing concern and must be addressed with more safety measures by the NFL and other sports organizations.

Carrie Burke is a writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in CBS Watch, Stylecaster, HuffPost And more. She is also a social media influencer, with over 3.8 million followers on TikTok and 900,000 on Instagram (@carrieberkk).

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.