As Damar Hamlin recovers physically, the NFL must not forget the mental toll of injuries, experts say

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SALT LAKE CITY — The first answer was the most important, but the second and third answers can also have a vital impact.

That speaks to the incredible response emitted by medical staff and first responders at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati when Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin collapsed unconscious in the middle of the first quarter on Monday Night Football against the hometown Bengals.

Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field that silenced the crowd, wowed the nation and stunned his teammates and opponents as Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington and medical staff administered life-saving CPR techniques..

Hamlin stays in critical condition but actively recovering at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center as the NFL turns its attention to other repairs beginning Monday night.

Among them, the league must consider the mental cost of the shocking injury witnessed by millions around the world, including Hamlin’s teammates and colleagues in the league, mental health experts told

“We all recognized life at that moment,” he said Kevin “Dock” Woods II, a former Utah Valley basketball player who now works as the program’s mental health specialist while running a private practice in holistic training. “It wasn’t just a football player or a cheerleader; we recognized a human. We all came together collectively.

“It was emotionally disarming, with feelings of helplessness, confusion, vulnerability and uncertainty of what is happening.”

It’s easy to see soccer players as merchandise for a league that’s also a business. Humans are often resources in the corporate world; and the NFL is the same, with 53-man rosters, practice squads, and players who are in and out of the league every year, not to mention the daily, weekly, and monthly grind of those on the sidelines.

But the NFL’s greatest resource is its players, and that resource should be prioritized with mental health resources for athletes who experienced in-game trauma or were triggered by watching the events on national television.

“When I first saw it, it almost looked like a normal hit, one we’ve seen so many times,” the former NFL player said. mike gibson, a five-year NFL veteran of the Eagles, Seahawks and Cardinals who now works as a mental health and addiction recovery advocate for the Mental Health Center in San Diego. “Injuries happen in football; they happen every day in practice and in games… Everything changed, not when the ambulance came out, but the moment they started resuscitating.

“I’ve never seen that on the football field, nor have most of the players; and then everything changed. There’s a brotherhood that goes from the training field to the daily battles, and finally you think of them as family. This became so much bigger than football.”

Suddenly, the ever-violent game of soccer collided with the reality of a 24-year-old fighting for his life. Hamlin was no longer just a football player.

He was someone’s son, brother and best friend, and that’s for a lot of people in the Buffalo Bills locker room. A GoFundMe account connected to his nonprofit organization Chasing M racked up more than $7 million in just a few days, leading fans to donate directly to the foundation when they heard about the third-year defensive back coming out of Pittsburgh with a heart of gold.

Even Hamlin’s first statements after regaining consciousness involved football: Did the Bills win?

“Damar is doing much better and that helps,” Gibson said. “He’s talking to his team on FaceTime and they know what he wants.

“That changes your perspective on the whole thing. That helps guys want to go out there and play for him; they know they can do this.”

Kayla Adeniji, center, wife of Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji, posts a sign she made in support of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, outside the UC Medical Center, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. in Cincinnati.  Hamlin, who remains hospitalized at the center, has shown what the doctors treating him are calling
Kayla Adeniji, center, wife of Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji, posts a sign she made in support of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, outside the UC Medical Center, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. in Cincinnati. Hamlin, who remains hospitalized at the center, has shown what his treating doctors call “marked improvement in the last 24 hours,” the team announced Thursday, three days after the player went into cardiac arrest and had to be revived in the field. . (Photo: Joshua A. Bickel, Associated Press)

NFL officials have sought to recognize Hamlin during the regular season finale throughout the league, with honors from fans, players, and staff members including:

  • A pregame moment of support to be read at every NFL stadium during Week 18, asking fans to join the club in a “moment of support and love for Damar, and cheer him and his family on as they They continue their fight.”
  • Outlining the number 3 on each 30-yard line in Buffalo Bills Red or Buffalo Bills Blue
  • Wearing black jerseys during pregame warmups that include the phrase “Love for Damar 3.” Bills players will wear similar jerseys, but in royal blue.
  • A number 3 jersey patch worn by the Bills during their Week 18 game.

It’s unlike anything Gibson, a longtime football fan before and since his playing days ended, has ever seen.

“I think this is a way for current players and fans to acknowledge what happened, and not just forget about it and move on,” Gibson said. “That’s important in mental health: You acknowledge the incident, you process it, you understand it, and then you move on. That’s how it makes us better in the long run.”

Seeing the way star players like Buffalo quarterbacks Josh Allen and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow have spoken out and led to honor Hamlin will likely help those athletes who feel stuck playing a game as a teammate and/or or friend and associate fight in a hospital room. he said.

“We know this can happen, but we never believe it could be one of us,” Gibson said. “Psychologically, it’s going to affect the people who were there.

“Even if it’s a one in a million chance, you’ll still think, ‘That could be me.'”

Those most affected by Hamlin’s injury start with the player and his family, but also include his teammates, coaches, staff and those who knew the player, both directly and tangentially.

Prioritizing mental health care for those closest to him (in Woods’ line of work, he recommends starting with roommates and close friends) can prevent trauma from spiraling.

“No one thinks about the people who witness it; we put most of our concern on the athlete who is injured, and rightly so,” Woods said. “But I like to consult with roommates and those closest to injured athletes. Those are the ones who see that athlete’s day-to-day and need coping skills: how to communicate, how to serve better, but also not giving too much energy. to something that is not yours to wear.

“It’s good to be useful, but you can also get lost in that. So it’s good to keep your own headspace for your brother or sister on the team.”

For those dealing with tragedy or trauma, Woods recommends engaging in spiritual practices like prayer and meditation, serving and volunteering at charities, or simply turning off the TV to offer time to process one’s thoughts.

However, don’t be afraid to broach the situation with your loved ones and those closest to you, he said. Such conversations can be uncomfortable at times, but they are necessary to process emotions.

“Each of us has different negative experiences that can also resurface during this time,” Woods said. “Every person in that field had their own experience of it, maybe their own level of PTSD from that point on.

“For anyone affected by this, it was a good time to pause and really take a moment to be mindful and grateful with life.”

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Sean Walker, a proud graduate of Syracuse University, has covered BYU for since 2015, all the while mixing high school sports, education, and whatever else his editors assign him to.

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