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OPINION | The question that we cannot avoid after what happened to Damar Hamlin


After what happened to the player Damar Hamlin this Monday, it is inevitable to ask questions about the moral issues of American football.

How common are cardiac arrests like Hamlin's?


Editor's Note:

Jeff Pearlman is the author of 10 books, including his latest, "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson."

The opinions expressed here belong solely to their author.

(CNN) --

Chances are you've never seen the photograph.

There is, in the archives of the Detroit Free Press, a harrowing black-and-white image that appeared on page 1D of the morning paper for October 25, 1971.

  • How frequent are cardiac arrests on the pitch like in the case of Damar Hamlin?

    A doctor explains it

There, lying face down on a muddy field, rests the body of Detroit Lions receiver Chuck Hughes, who moments earlier had run 15 yards toward the Chicago Bears secondary, stopped, clutched his chest with both hands, and then he collapsed on his stomach.

George Puscas, executive sports editor of the Detroit Free Press, wrote: "From the moment Dick Butkus, the huge Chicago Bears


, began waving frantically at the Lions dugout, it was obvious that Chuck Hughes was in serious trouble."

The medics entered the field.

An ambulance was called.

The 54,418 spectators at Tiger Stadium fell silent.

Within hours, Hughes, just 28 years old, was pronounced dead of what turned out to be a coronary thrombosis: a blood clot that caused a heart attack.

He remains the only NFL player to have died during a game.

Following the tragedy Monday night in Cincinnati, when Buffalo Bills


Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field and was rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he remains hospitalized in critical condition, I cannot avoid thinking about Hughes and football and what the NFL wants us to see (and what we don't).

The National Football League is the land of soft drinks.

And the fries.

It's the land of $169 embroidered jerseys and $59 caps (both available now at, with free shipping if you order soon).

It is the land of betting apps and fantasy leagues;

of the shiny helmets and the colorful uniforms and the scantily clad cheerleaders and the adults dressed as fluffy barnyard animals.

The NFL exists to seduce your senses, lure your dollars, and bring your pent-up aggression to life every Sunday afternoon.


and POP!

What the NFL doesn't do well is... face reality.

When, in 1971, Hughes was carried off the field, league officials knew he was dead ("We got to him and he had no pulse," said Dr. Richard A. Thompson, an osteopath on the scene), and then it took them 10 minutes to decide that the game should continue.

It's no exaggeration: Literally 10 minutes into loading Hughes' lifeless body onto a stretcher, Lions quarterback Greg Landry completed a 12-yard pass to Charlie Sanders.

Afterward, members of both teams were horrified ("I wish they'd called the game," Chicago's Bob Wallace said), but had little influence on what happened.

There was a stadium full of fans.

There was a division title to fight for.

There were checks to collect.

Fifty-two years after the Hughes tragedy, the Bills-Bengals game was rightly suspended following Hamlin's collapse.

And as Hamlin, 24, a Pittsburgh native and a man described as "charitable," "endearing" and "caring" by those who know him, fights for his life, we must hope for a full recovery.

  • Who is Damar Hamlin?

    This was the life of the NFL player before he collapsed on the field

But it also seems reasonable to do what the NFL hates and raise real questions about the game so many of us love.

Namely, is this all right?

Although what happened to Hamlin is still unclear, he went into cardiac arrest after what seemed to many observers to be a run-of-the-mill blow.

In any case, his story and Hughes's make it impossible, at a deeper level, for those of us who love and watch this game to avoid its moral issues.

A game that causes so much pain and suffering, is it a reasonable search in an enlightened society?

Should we talk more about the 2017 Boston University study that found Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in 99% of the brains obtained from NFL players,

as well as 91% of college football players?

Can we question the appropriateness of adult men hitting against adult men?

Can we debate whether youth tackling leagues are life-affirming or crazy?

Following Hamlin's collision with Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, one NFL-affiliated account after another tweeted that we shouldn't watch a replay of the hit.

Which is too explicit;

too disturbing;

too disrespectful.

Some of the fans who agree with this are trying to show respect, but coming from voices associated with the NFL, it started to sound too much like unofficial/official dogma: Drink your Pepsi.

Eat your Tostitos.

Put on the foam finger.

Just don't focus on the carnage.

But maybe, just maybe, we need to see the reality behind the glitz in all its gruesome details.

These are real people, with lives off the field and endeavors off the field.

Hamlin is a son, a brother, a friend.

He started his own toy drive for children in his former neighborhood in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.

"A kind and generous young man," wrote Andrew Fillipponi, a Pittsburgh journalist.

Last night, shortly after Hamlin's injury, a 53-year-old man was sitting in his San Antonio, Texas home when he received a text from his mother.



Brandon Hughes was only one year old when his father died on the field at Tigers Stadium, but as soon as he saw what had happened to Damar Hamlin, emotions hit him hard.

"Everything they were saying was so familiar to me," Brandon, an employee of a mutual fund company, told me.

"But they kept talking about how this is unprecedented, how this is unprecedented. I thought, 'No, it's not like that. Not at all.'"

Brandon Hughes called his mother, Sharon, now 77 but widowed at 24. She sounded saddened, both by the uncertainty about Hamlin's future, and by the family echoes of past tragedies.

"All these journalists are too young to remember," he told his son.

"But I've seen this before.

" "I've seen it."

damar hamlin

Source: cnnespanol

All news articles on 2023-01-04

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