The NFL Needs To Do More Following Damar Hamlin’s Accident | Opinion

The regular NFL season is rich with breaking sports news—consider Aaron Rodgers‘ day one Achilles injury that took him out for the whole year. Or the Jets’ recent win against the Eagles, a first in franchise history. Amid the wins, losses, and injuries, it’s easy to forget earlier traumatic moments that have shaped the NFL.

On Jan. 2, 2023, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest mid-game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It was more than a potential career-ending accident; the play was a case of life or death. 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 from his coma. Likewise, the incident was a wakeup call for sports players, coaches, and fans alike that football is more than just a game. Oftentimes, in watching teams tackle each other on the field, we forget that these players are real people with lives and families outside the field. We get so lost in the aggression of the game that we forget that the players are human. Even though football is inherently physical, we must protect the safety of players at all costs.

This is particularly important considering recent age statistics in the NFL. The number of quarterbacks in their early-20s has increased tremendously this season. According to Pro Football Reference data, “the drop in average age for Week 1 starting quarterbacks from 2017 (30.3 years old) to 2023 (27.9) is the largest for any six-year span since 1950.” Consider football players Zach Wilson, Brock Purdy, Anthony Richardson, and Bryce Young—all under age 25. Serious injuries could stunt the lives of these young adults and damage their future, both on and off the field.

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

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

“The type of incident Hamlin suffered was unavoidable. It was a cardiac arrest due to commotio cordis, based on the location and force of the blow,” said NFL agent Tara Di Luca. “It was a routine play, not an illegal tackle. I don’t think there needed to be any specific changes because Hamlin had the appropriate 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 a soft shell.

Damar Hamlin #3 of the Buffalo Bills
Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills looks on prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Highmark Stadium on Oct. 26, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Rich Barnes/Getty Images

According to Di Luca, at the annual league meeting in March, the NFL updated its helmet rule so that players can’t use any part of the helmet to force contact with the opponent’s head or neck area. Additionally, Guardian Caps (helmet covers) are now required at practices for several positions throughout the whole season, not just at training camp.

“The new Guardian Caps rule in the NFL mandates the use of Guardian Caps during every preseason, regular-season, and postseason practice involving contact,” explained NFL agent Joe Sanfilippo. “This requires specific position groups, including linemen, linebackers, running backs, and fullbacks, to wear them to reduce the force of impact during helmet hits.”

NFL agent Stephen Vanyo said more grass fields are being implemented to prevent breakage and sprains. As of now, it’s roughly a 50-50 split between which stadiums have turf and which have grass. “I think that’ll be the next big thing that the NFLPA [National Football League Players Association] will be working on,” he said.

But what about increased medical staff? Or more routine health checks, particularly for players with underlying health conditions?

When it comes to the NFL and the safety of players, Hamlin is hardly part of the conversation—he hasn’t been included for a while, apart from a quick appearance on screen seated from the sidelines. He fights to stay relevant by his own means, and through his charity, Chasing M’s Foundation. The NFL seems to have pushed his name out of the limelight in favor of furthering the entertainment value of football they know fans enjoy.

Although football is an entertaining sport, we must keep in mind that players like Hamlin are repeatedly putting their bodies through physical trauma. Player safety is an evolving concern, and it must be addressed with further safety measures by the NFL and other sports organizations.

Carrie Berk is a New York City-based writer. Her work has been featured 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 views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.


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