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American football – afterthought in the NFL bone mill

Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin (#3) collapsed on the field in the game against the Cincinnati Bengals, required CPR and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. However, he is currently on the mend. (dpa / picture alliance / John Sommers)

Monday night in Cincinnati at the Bengals-Buffalo Bills game. The hosts attack again with six minutes remaining in the first quarter. Tee Higgins’ quick sprint throws the ball into his hand at full speed and collides his head into a defender.

It’s actually safety* Damar Hamlin who gets up after the impact, only to collapse seconds later and remain immobile on the field.

What the hasty medical staff discover is reflected in the faces of their teammates seconds later and is seen live by millions at home on television. As their mate struggles with life, they fight back the tears. Hamlin stopped breathing. The first diagnosis: cardiac arrest. He is transported to the nearby hospital.

150 young, fit, dead athletes in the US every year

Not uncommon in American sports. Cardiologists in the United States estimate that about 150 fit young athletes die this way each year in their country alone. They don’t get medical attention fast enough.

All the more notable, however, was the reaction from the National Football League. At the urging of the emotionally affected players and coaches, he temporarily canceled the game and decided on Thursday: there will be no rescheduling. Which, given the scenes in Cincinnati, was well received by the American sports world. Representative – basketball star LeBron James’ comment:

“This is definitely the right decision, no matter who made it. Nothing is as important as the safety of athletes, regardless of the sport.”

Cancellation of the game yes or no?

Indeed, such an attitude is still a rarity. Especially when it complicates the further course of the season like here. The playoffs start in a week, with the Bengals and the Bills. But the missing result affects the seeding list. So the League just wants to find a solution in the next week.

Australian sports psychologist Shane Murphy, a professor at Western Connecticut State University in the US and author of a standard 800-page work on sport and performance psychology, finds it almost imperative to cancel a match in such situations.

“This is difficult for athletes. Suddenly everyone realizes: it could happen to me too. You saw the raw emotions in that moment. This is the main reason why you need to cancel a meeting in such a situation. Players can’t just go back to normal. Otherwise, you put them at greater risk.”

The risk? That they get hurt because they are distracted and no longer react quickly enough at crucial moments.

UEFA and the Eriksen case

Last summer at the European Football Championship, the managers of the Danish national team showed much less care. Then their captain Christian Eriksen collapsed in the first half against Finland without the influence of an opponent, was revived and taken to hospital.

However, UEFA put pressure on the team. Players should decide for themselves: continue playing or skip the game and play again the next day. Otherwise the match will be counted as a loss.

The Danes were ready to continue and lost 0-1. The “traumatic experience” that coach Kasper Hjulmand later described at the press conference clearly had a lasting effect.

Hjulmand sees a positive aspect

A few months ago, he revisited the experience. Hjulmand now also sees a positive aspect.

“The players protected their friend. You supported his wife Sabrina. They were very, very generous and thought of the entire group. It’s part of our culture in our competitive age. This is who we are. They are great role models for the next generation.”

Denmark even reached the semifinals of the European Championship.

Gladiator’s appearance is cracking

Even the most recent case demonstrates something positive. And that of all things in the NFL bone mill, which wears down its pros so badly that they retire after an average of three years as a sports invalid. The old call for activists to accept any form of brutality and simply set it aside has given way to a more nuanced view. Shane Murphy:

“In the past that gladiator look and physical exertion definitely appealed to a lot of people. But today’s fans can understand what the injuries they sustain in the process mean for players in the long term. For example, if I see a serious collision today, My first thought is, ‘Oh, I hope the boy is okay.'”

Damar Hamlin, 24, is still not entirely well but appears to be out of danger five days later. He is breathing again without the aid of medical devices, he can speak again and was connected to a team meeting on Friday via the Internet. There he thanked the enormous solidarity: “Guys, I love you”.

*Editor’s Note: In an early version, we gave Damar Hamlin the wrong location.

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