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When Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapses during 'Monday Night Football', the media reacts


The scene was as horrible as it was unprecedented. In the first quarter of Monday night’s NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed after making a tackle.

Seeing a player lying on the pitch, unfortunately, is no stranger to football. But this time it was different. This time you could immediately tell it was more serious. You could tell how quickly the medical staff rushed to attend to Hamlin. You could tell by looking at the shocked and frightened faces of the players on the pitch.

Then came the grim and almost unbelievable news that Hamlin had received CPR for nearly nine minutes in the field before being taken by ambulance to hospital. Reports late Monday night said Hamlin was in critical condition at a Cincinnati hospital.



WCPO-TV in Cincinnati tweeted that, according to Hamlin’s representatives, his vital signs were “back to normal” and doctors were taking steps to “run a breathing tube down his throat.”

Play was initially temporarily suspended with reports it could continue on Monday night. A little over an hour later, the match was postponed until nightfall.

ESPN’s coverage of events was responsible yet clumsy, primarily because information was initially so scarce and the situation was so critical. Match announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, along with sideline reporter Lisa Salters, stuck strictly to the facts of what they saw and heard at the stadium.

Back in the New York studio, host Suzy Kolber, football analyst Booger McFarland and NFL insider Adam Schefter could only try to describe the emotions of watching a player crumble on the field. and, it seems, start fighting for his life.

But without any concrete information, there wasn’t much the broadcasters could say.

Everyone on ESPN spoke in low tones, calling for the game to be canceled. Kolber was particularly insistent that the game had to be postponed for the night. Otherwise, ESPN broadcasters could only repeat things like “There are no words” and “There really isn’t anything we can say right now.” Throughout, all offered prayers.

ESPN, on the whole, showed restraint by not constantly airing video of Hamlin colliding with Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. Hamlin briefly stood up, adjusted his face mask and then stepped back. He was apparently motionless while, it seems, paramedics cut off his uniform to begin CPR. Partly because players surrounded Hamlin, and partly because ESPN didn’t zoom in on what was going on, viewers didn’t see medical personnel working on Hamlin. Over the next 10 minutes or so, ESPN gave viewers updates, but also (wisely) continued to run commercials.

Between the long commercial breaks, there were chilling scenes of Bills players sobbing uncontrollably and hugging each other.

After the game was canceled — at around 10:01 p.m. Eastern Time, about 1 hour and 6 minutes after Hamlin’s collapse — ESPN then handed over coverage to “SportsCenter” anchor Scott Van Pelt . It was then that the sometimes emotional Salters gave a remarkable account of what happened immediately after the incident.

Then Salters described the scene outside the locker room as the game. Salters’ reporting from the stadium was superb, as was Van Pelt’s interview with ESPN analyst and former NFL player Ryan Clark. Normally, on Monday evening, Clark is there to dissect the match. But on that particular Monday night, Clark gave a respectful, informative, insightful and, at times, passionate perspective on what players and coaches go through watching one of their own in serious condition.

Clark, like everyone else, agreed that the game should be stopped. And he doesn’t know when football should resume.

“Watching a man become truly lifeless…” Clark told Van Pelt. “We saw people knocked out, we saw hard knocks. It was even different. The NFL is big business. And the NFL must continue to do business. And the NFL must continue to entertain. But if the NFL doesn’t send someone to those locker rooms, if the NFL doesn’t send people to Cincinnati right now or Buffalo or wherever they’re going right now, they’re missing the point. The goal is to make sure these men are okay and then you can play football. … What is important is Damar Hamlin.

Van Pelt handled the post-game coverage well.

Overall, ESPN has moved from game coverage to news coverage. It went from sports reporting to news reporting, and ESPN’s coverage was extensive and valuable.

It’s also worth noting that cable news channels – CNN, MSNBC and Fox News – all covered the story extensively, bringing in people versed in the sport to comment. CNN had USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan and broadcaster Bob Costas, Fox News had veteran broadcaster Jim Gray, and MSNBC had interviewed longtime sports columnists William Rhoden (New York Times, Andscape) and Kevin Blackistone (Washington Post) . MSNBC also interviewed medical analyst Dr. Vin Gupta.

In Buffalo, the local newspaper, The Buffalo News, had a headline: “Bills safety Damar Hamlin in critical condition after collapsing on the pitch; game suspended.

Local Buffalo television stations also carried the story. On its website, Fox29 had the title of “Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapses on the field after being injured against the Bengals. It included a haunting photo of star Bills quarterback Josh Allen with his face in his hands.

The New York Times sent a breaking news alert to subscribers, and the Washington Post website displayed the breaking news prominently.



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