Hamlin Injury Calls Into Question NFL Response

Thom Weidlich 01.05.23


The injury that put Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin in critical condition is a horrible tragedy. The main communications issue raised was the NFL taking more than an hour to announce the game would not go on. The league will have sensitive comms decisions to make related to this incident going forward.

Hamlin, 24, collapsed and suffered cardiac arrest after making a tackle during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hamlin (pictured) remains in critical condition at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The players on the field, some in tears, had surrounded Hamlin as medical professionals restored his heartbeat.

The players were traumatized and at least some had no intention of continuing play. This was unique: Apparently, no injury has led to the cessation, rather than simply a delay, of an NFL game.

Social Media

The league’s lag in officially announcing the postponement gave those on Twitter and other social-media platforms time to speculate that it would force the players to carry on. This was not greeted with kind words: Commentors argued, correctly, that the focus should be on Hamlin’s health.

ESPN announcer Joe Buck contributed to the confusion when he said the players would be given five minutes and then play would resume. “That’s the word we get from the league and the word we get from down on the field, but nobody’s moving,” Buck said, according to The New York Times. Buck’s statement seemed to fuel the anti-league ire.

But in a press conference hours later, an NFL official denied this was the case. “How do you resume play after you’ve seen such a traumatic event occur in front of you real time?” said Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president for football operations. “And that’s the way we were thinking about it.”

Player Safety

Either Buck or Vincent had it wrong, and someone should provide clarity. It’s an important question: Does the organization care so little about player safety or is it getting a raw deal from fans ready to pounce? Of course, resuming play would have been even worse.

Obviously, it took some time for the NFL to get its statement together. It could have announced that play would be halted and that further comment was forthcoming.

The public’s insistence that the focus should be on Hamlin’s recovery means that the league must be sensitive in communicating going forward, including about how and when the game will be resumed. In a Tuesday memo, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he notified both teams that that won’t be happening this week.

Photo Credit: Damar Hamlin via Twitter

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