NFL Did Right to Cancel Game but Did Not Act Quick Enough in Placing Player Safety First
In the heat of the moment, responding to a crisis is hard, especially when one like Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin’s unfolds live before thousands of people (and millions at home).
Hamlin’s injury became larger than football in minutes, and quick and decisive measures need to be taken even when people are not thinking clearly. This is why crisis response plans, protocols and communications are prepared in advance – they’re made when people are thinking straight and can lay out the best course of action for any potential scenario.
If the National Football League (NFL) had acted on its crisis response with a swift resolution (canceling the game) that was communicated clearly to coaches, players, officials, fans and commentators, the league may have been able to avoid the media crisis it is in now and shown that it cares for Hamlin, as well as his family.
What it comes down to is what the NFL did or did not do following Hamlin’s collapse.
Various reports and sources debate if NFL officials attempted to restart the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals Monday Night Football game after the on field cardiac arrest of Hamlin.
In a way though, it almost doesn’t even matter because the NFL is at fault for either attempting to restart the game or not communicating clearly that the game would be canceled.
As a result, what comes forward to most people is the NFL’s reputation for money first, and the health and well-being of players, especially black players, second. The league’s status is so soiled due the organization’s past failures with effectively and proactively caring for player safety (some that even happened this year) that many people believe the NFL sought to resume the game despite players and fans becoming emotionally overwhelmed and tearing up at what they witnessed.
Following a hit to the chest during a play in the first quarter, Hamlin initially got back to his feet before collapsing on the field. Hamlin was treated by team trainers before an ambulance arrived. Hamlin received CPR and after a delay, Hamlin was placed on a backboard and into the ambulance to be taken to the hospital.
This all transpired between 8:55pm and 9:25pm.
What started people getting upset at the NFL is what occurred at 9:17pm; officials said the game was “temporarily suspended,” which implies the game would continue.
Fans, analysts and commentators all called for the game to be cancelled, and on social media, “call the game” began trending.
However, less than an hour after the teams went to their respective lockers, players returned to the field to begin warming up, and reports came out that the NFL was giving each team five minutes to warm up before the game would resume, but coaches from both teams met with NFL refs to call the game.
It wasn’t until 10:00pm that the game was officially cancelled for the night, with the NFL announcing it as well on Twitter.
What’s unclear in this situation is if the NFL told the teams to resume play, teams were following protocol, or if the coaches agreed to cancel the game (as opposed to the NFL itself).
According to ESPN commentator Joe Buck, he and former NFL quarterback Troy Aikman were told by the league that players would have five minutes. That news had to come from someone.
Eventually the right call was made to cancel the game, and media even noted that the NFL did the right thing by canceling the game.
However, damage was already done, despite NFL executive VP of football operations Troy Vincent stating the league didn’t tell anyone the game would resume, “Frankly, it never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive.”
There is some speculation that people were just following standard operating protocols after a long injury delay and no one said, “let’s go play football.”
Some people have stated that someone had to have given the order to warm up and resume play, but no one will admit it now.
No matter what though, by NFL officials’ ineffectiveness to not immediately alert teams that the game was canceled following Hamlin’s injury, the organization dug itself into a deeper hole of ineptitude when it comes to players’ health.
Numerous people have since called out the NFL, including journalist Ernest Owens, who made the point on Twitter that if the injury was to Buccaneers’ quarterback Tom Brady, there wouldn’t have been the need for “call the game” trending on Twitter. Owens further highlighted his concerns on black players in a post to “The Daily Beast.”
And sure, many people within the NFL have said they had never seen anything like Hamlin’s collapse before, but that shouldn’t preclude them from taking the right steps to communicate with those involved and act quickly with the welfare of players in mind.
Instead, others took it upon themselves to focus on Hamlin and his care – ranging from current NFL players like Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield, to Major League Baseball star Mike Trout and National Basketball Association start Lebron James.
In addition, former NFL quarterback and current commentator Robert Griffin III asked people not to share video of Hamlin collapsing, but rather a picture of the Bills players kneeling in support of their teammate.