Are You Ready for Some Commentary?

Monday Night Football was long associated with the song, Are You Ready for Some Football? This week, MNF broadcast a football moment no one was ready for. During the first quarter of a highly anticipated game between the Bills and Bengals, Buffalo defensive back Damar Hamlin stood up after what looked like a routine tackle, only to wobble and collapse onto the field, leading to a lengthy and deeply concerning medical delay, and ultimately to the game’s postponement. Fans left to wonder what was happening during the medical timeout would later learn that Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest, stopped breathing, and had to be given CPR on the field before being taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he remains in critical condition. Seeing NFL players from both teams, hardened by the often brutal injuries encountered in a violent game, huddled in prayer at midfield, many embracing each other in tears, made it clear that what was happening in Paycor Stadium was shockingly unusual. As Kevin Clark explains in The Ringer, “It felt different because it was different.”

While the moment on the field was different, much of the reaction was sadly familiar. For the average fan who happened to be watching the game as the scene unfolded, the reaction was sadness and concern—best exemplified by the donations that poured into Damar Hamlin’s toy drive for kids for which he had raised about $2500 over the past couple years. That number is now over $4.2 million. In a normal world, the din of this normal human response would have drowned out all else. But we live in a media world, where everyone has to have an immediate, declarative take on everything—and to assign broader meaning to moments that are starkly, and even horrifying, unique.

ESPN was left with the difficult job of covering an unusual scene without much realtime information. As Joe Buck said, “There’s just nothing to say.” That clear fact didn’t stop the cable news channels from going all-in with nonstop coverage of the collapse, complete with the factless analysis to which we’ve grown exhaustedly accustomed. On social media, the outlying takes (including antivax conspiratorial nonsense) were, as usual, retweeted and debated to the center of our discourse. And then came the think-pieces. Some reminded us that football is a violent and often costly game—which is true, and there’s no shortage of moments that add to this conclusion. I’m just not sure a shocking and unprecedented heart attack is one of them (especially since we don’t really know any of the details about exactly what happened). A thousand other moments, this season alone, laid bare the game’s toll. But right now, we’re still not sure what the game’s toll had to do with Damar Hamlin’s condition. Others reminded us that Damar Hamlin’s condition is far more important than football. Is that something about which we really need reminding? I know people have columns to write and shows to fill and the compulsion to Tweet and have an immediate opinion on every occurence is a behavior I’ve been as guilty of as anyone. (Even now, I’m sharing a take on other people’s takes.) But maybe the players on the field had the most appropriate response. They witnessed something terrible that none of them had ever seen before. So they dropped to a knee, locked arms, and hoped for the best.

Copied to Clipboard