A Life Perspective From Sports by William Klein

Football is the most popular sport in the US.  I don’t know why this is the case, but I think it’s because it is a sport that it is the most analogous to the struggle of life. It is a kill or be killed gladiator sport that demonstrates how challenging it is to move the ball downfield, mentally, emotionally and physically to win a game.

Sometimes we have magnificent plays and can move the ball on a big pass or run play, other times we take a loss, but we pick ourselves up, make a plan and try to make up ground on the next play. People block for us and open up holes to help us gain ground against our opposition, and we win as a team, and we lose as a team. 

It’s an interesting game to watch because at its best, the game is a choreographed marvel of human achievement as players making throws or catches, running, weaving downfield, breaking tackles with dazzling speed and exceptional physical prowess.

Last Monday night as the Buffalo Bills took on the Cincinnati Bengals the game took on a new meaning for many including those who play the game for our amusement. Damar Hamlin, the safety for the Bills made a tackle on wide receiver Tee Higgins of the Bengals. It was a tackle that has been witnessed thousands of times in the league, but this tackle resulted in a cardiac arrest – medical experts considered that Hamlin’s chest was pounded at the exact moment that it was charging for the next beat thus stopping the heart. The medical term for this is “commodio cortis.”

Hamlin got up from the tackle and collapsed on the field. CPR was administered on the field to restart his heart and players were stunned, crying and praying for their friend’s life to be saved. An ambulance was brought onto the field and the game was suspended and postponed. Hamlin was rushed to a trauma one hospital in nearby University of Cincinnati hospital and a coma was induced to intubate him to help him breathe and lower his body temperature to help him heal.

During the game, the commentators stated that each team would be given “five minutes to warm up” and play would continue. Coach Sean McDermott stated to Bengals coach Zac Taylor he needed to be with his player at the hospital and players were sent to the locker rooms. 

There was one particular insensitive tweet from football commentator Skip Bayless:

“No doubt the NFL is considering postponing the rest of this game — but how? This late in the season a game of this magnitude is crucial the regular season outcome…  which suddenly seems so irrelevant.”

Bayless was referring to how the game would determine who would gain homefield advantage, but players from both teams had a bigger vision of life. There was no way some of those players were going to continue to play while one of their brothers was in a battle for his life. The NFL did the right thing in canceling the game and my guess is that it was inspired by the players who were in no mindset to continue to play.

To his credit, Bayless recognizes that there is an irrelevance to the game, but his timing of the tweet while Hamlin was being resuscitated on the field and the insensitivity to the needs of players emotional states at a time like that beg the question of Bayless’ sincerity for the player’s well-being. His partner Shannon Sharp called him out on air and confronted him about this, and challenged him to take the tweet down which Bayless refused to do.

Some people are hostage to denial. We use escapes in this world to help us cope with life. When our escapism is confronted by a life and death situation like Hamlin’s we realize that we cannot escape that mortality is an ever-present reality that needs to be confronted and addressed.

Hamlin’s charity toy drive has had total strangers across the country giving money upwards of $6 million to show solidarity with him. Players have called for the firing of Bayless. 

In typical Bills’ Mafia fashion, the city has rallied behind Hamlin to demonstrate support in unique ways. The Bills’ Mafia, a term of endearment and ironic turn of phrase for a community that finds quiet ways to strike with philanthropic gifts to show their support to their players and their charities. Bigger life lessons are taking place as a result of this 24 year old’s battle for life. 

Thankfully, he is improving daily and it looks like he may not have suffered severe nuerological damage. We have learned another lesson from the game.

Football is a violent game. The concussions and deaths of players as a result of repeated bashes to the head begs the question is it all worth it?

I’ve recently seen images from telecasts that offer tremendous perspective about sports and how games impart life lessons.

I saw former football player and now a commentator Robert Griffin III run off the field during a report, as he learned his wife was in labor. The joy in his face and excitement as he realized he was going to be a new father was precious. 

I saw Deion Sanders comforting a player who felt like he lost the game for his team. Sanders comforted him saying “one play doesn’t make a game” and “we lost that game as a team.” Sanders told him that ten years from now he’ll have a better perspective and see how this loss challenged him in a bigger way.

God willing, this is a lesson that Hamlin’s story will impart as well. In the end, when we’re raging at our players for missing tackles, making “bone headed” plays and screwing up our “Fantasy brackets,” we may be reminded for just a moment that “it’s just a game” and there’s more here to learn than what we are seeing.

When Hamlin awoke yesterday, he wrote, “Who won the game?” His doctor replied, “Yes, you won. You won the game of life.” Truer words have never been spoken.

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