I don’t often watch Monday Night Football, but I did on January 2. I found myself magnetized to the game because it involved the Cincinnati Bengals, for whom YouthCUE alumnus Evan McPhearson is the place kicker. In the opening minutes of the game, Evan, one of Roger Walworth’s former youth choir singers from Ft. Payne, AL, did his usual kicking magic. It is always fun to watch Evan do his job … and do it so very well! (We can hope others say the same of us.)
We all know what happened next. Damar Hamlin, defensive back for the Buffalo Bills, suddenly suffered cardiac arrest and fell to the turf like a rock. Horrifying minutes then turned into almost an hour of nail-biting and anxious suspension … waiting. CPR and other emergency procedures were being administered – right where he fell – to try to keep Damar alive. The players on the field were devastated, scared, and traumatized. The fans in the stands were stunned and speechless. Eventually, an ambulance rolled onto the field and transported Damar to the ER. It has recently been revealed that Buffalo Bills trainer, Denny Ellington, provided the necessary CPR, giving Damar a shot at survival.
Fast forward to the present: as of yesterday afternoon, January 9, Damar was released from the hospital and sent home to recover. This was a miracle … “a hard-work miracle” for sure, because many people participated tirelessly in it … but a miracle nonetheless. That a 24-year-old would fall to the hard to the ground – essentially lifeless – be revived and sustained until arriving at a nearby hospital, unconscious for three days, awake and alert on day 4, and back home by day 7. A mind-blowing, astonishing, hard-work miracle it was indeed!
Those of us who watched that night – and even those who saw the scene later on video – witnessed some peculiar and spectacular occurrences in the face of this near tragedy.
Here’s one: 80,000 fans stood motionless and mute in a football stadium for almost an hour. That, friends, is a miracle.
Here’s another: Normally, when “the benches clear” in any athletic event, it means there is a huge fight or brawl on the gridiron, on the court, on the diamond. This time, it was the complete opposite. The players from both benches emptied out onto the field, tended to one another’s emotions, and supported their teammates and even their opponents “across party lines.” There were hugs and friendly pats; players were weeping together, and all were engaged together to survive the crucial moments.
And here’s yet another: Not one person in the stadium, in the stands, behind cameras or broadcast booths, even at NFL Headquarters, on watching on TV had the slightest interest in trying to finish the game once Damar left the stadium. Nobody.
I could not help but contrast that scene in Cincinnati with what we all saw happening in Washington, D. C. on Capitol Hill all of last week. A juxtaposition indeed!
I believe we all learned some important lessons from the Damar Hamlin miracle.
We learned that one human life is far more important that any sport, any franchise, any box office, any media outpost.
We learned that, when things become desperate enough, people – even people on opposite sides – can pull together for the good of all. If they will!
We learned that football is a game. The NFL is a business. The players are people, and they come first.
We learned that the fans, while sometimes boisterous and demanding, also have hearts, even in mobs if we will stop and be quiet long enough to actually feel empathy for another human being. Or a community of human beings. Or those not fortunate enough to have a community.
We learned that, despite discouraging attitudes exhibited by some, at the end of the day, love wins the game.
May we as choral directors be agents of love … every day and in every way!