Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (Greg M. Cooper/The Associated Press)

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (Greg M. Cooper/The Associated Press)

PIERRE LaBOSSIERE COLUMN: Real life intrudes on the sports world

Suddenly, real life invaded the sports world Monday night.

And the fragility of life.

Everyone at the Barhop was looking forward to the big matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. Two good teams battling for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

And it came to a screeching halt. The joy. The anticipation. Everything. Suddenly, the vibe was sad and depressed.

As everyone knows now, Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field after making a seemingly routine tackle on Cincinnati wide receiver Tee Higgins.

For everyone watching the game, it’s something they’ll never forget.

I’m going to date myself here. I actually remember Chuck Hughes. He was a defensive back for the Detroit Lions and simply died on the field in 1971 from a heart attack during a game against the Chicago Bears. There was an infamous Associated Press photo of Hughes lying dead on the field with Chicago’s Dick Butkus standing over him.

I remember that photo because our local newspaper printed it three or four columns wide on the front page. As a kid, it chilled me. It was one of my earliest sports memories, right up there with the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl.

Incredibly, the NFL actually continued playing that game after Hughes was removed from the field. Thankfully, the NFL didn’t make that same stupid decision this time. According to ESPN, the NFL did want to continue Monday night’s game, but the Buffalo and Cincinnati coaches and players refused.

When the game is played doesn’t seem to matter much at the moment, though ultimately it will have to be played. Hamlin’s condition is all that seems to matter. As of press deadline, he’s still in critical condition.

I almost never, ever watch NASCAR, but I actually had the television on to the Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt’s car went into the wall and he was killed. Like the hit that caused Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, it really didn’t look like much at first. Just a freak accident.

I was watching the Monday Night Football game when Joe Theismann’s leg was snapped by Lawrence Taylor. I was also watching Monday Night Football the night they announced John Lennon had been murdered.

I was watching Hockey Night in Canada when Bryan Berard lost part of his eye to the blade of a stick.

I was watching a San Francisco Giants game when Dave Dravecky snapped his arm throwing a pitch. Dravecky had just returned from overcoming cancer in his arm.

Real life, always lurking around the corner.

I consider sports to be a subsidiary of the entertainment industry. A distraction and a respite from the travails of real life. Unfortunately, real life isn’t far away. Perhaps that’s part of the attraction of sports.

Honestly, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often. Football and hockey are both incredibly violent sports, with extremely big and fast men crashing into each other as hard as they can. I’m amazed there aren’t more severe neck and spinal injuries and ruptured arteries. Maybe the equipment does protect them somewhat.

I’m not sure the NFL can do much to avoid something like this happening again. It was such a routine tackle. That’s perhaps the scariest part of it. The sheer randomness of it.

But then, life itself is pretty random.


Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at plabossiere@peninsuladailynews.com.

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