Tragic moment with Damar Hamlin reminds us NFL players are human

There are times we forget. There are times we forget that NFL players are human. They have bones that break and muscles that pull and hearts that pound. They laugh at bad jokes and fall in love and build families. They have dreams and cares.

Despite all of that, there are times we forget their humanity. You do it, so have I, on occasion. There are times we think of them as robots with no feelings. Drones with numbers on their backs. We draft them in fantasy football, curse them when they don’t score enough points, think we can do what they can when most of us can barely get off the couch.

There are times, plenty of times, too many times, when many people don’t think of them as living beings.

Then something like the horror that we saw on Monday night happens. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in the first quarter of Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals after a violent hit. A brutal hit for sure, but the kind of hit we see all the time.

But this was different.

Players stopped in their tracks. Some started crying, sobbing into towels. They knew. They absolutely knew that even for the level of violence they see every week, this was different.

There are many things to say about this scary and tragic case, but if there’s one thing we all need to do from here, must do, must always do from this moment forward, is remember these are actual people. Physically superhuman, for sure, but they are people who deserve our respect and care, two things they don’t always receive from us.

In 30 years of covering the sport, and watching some of the ugliest hits and moments on the field, and seeing how the sport crushes souls and spines and minds, I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never witnessed a player getting CPR on the field. Like most of you, this was the scariest moment I’ve witnessed watching the sport.

The game stopped, as it should have.

The playoff race, fantasy championships and all of the other things we normally obsess over seem so small now, because they are. They are microscopic compared to this frightening time.

Former Rams player Andrew Whitworth tweeted: ‘… to fellow NFL brothers reach out to teammates former or current. Put our arms around each other through something like this!’

Former NFL player and current ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, on the network after the game was suspended, said: ‘So the next time we get upset at our favorite fantasy player, or we’re upset that the guy on our team doesn’t make the play, and we’re saying he’s worthless, and we’re saying, ‘You get to make all this money’ – we should remember these men are putting their lives on the line to live their dream.’

And that is it. That is the thing to remember. They are paid well and they are given the ability to create generational wealth, but that comes at a vicious price. It comes in the form of head trauma after numerous concussions or a dozen other lifelong ailments players have to live with once the games end.

They move from one on-field car crash to another. They leave and enter the blue tent. They are told the best ability is availability. The sport breeds obedience and the ignoring of physical and mental health.

Initially, this seemed like so many other moments we’ve seen when play stops after a brutal hit – players gather, hold hands as a player is carried onto a cart, and as he leaves, he gives the thumbs-up.

Not on Monday night.

There are times we forget. There are times we forget that NFL players are human. We forget they have lives. They take their daughters to school, they text their significant others ‘I love you.’ They are brothers and fathers and caregivers.

They are human.

Let’s never forget that.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY