By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I share with you a column written by my dear student Rabbi Ori Strum. This is an important lesson learned from the recent Damar Hamlin incident and the reaction of the NFL and the fans. I hope you will find it as meaningful as I did.
Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you’ve probably heard what happened to Damar Hamlin, the NFL safety for the Buffalo Bills, during the Monday Night Football game Jan. 2.
At 8:55 p.m., Hamlin made a relatively benign-looking tackle on a Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver. Afterward, he popped up to his feet, adjusted his helmet and then suddenly collapsed backward onto the ground. The 24-year-old athlete had suffered a cardiac arrest. Within minutes, teammates created a barricade while EMTs performed lifesaving CPR and administered oxygen.
The scene at the stadium was heart-wrenching. Players, coaches, personnel and fans from both teams were weeping, praying and embracing each other. Hamlin was rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he currently remains sedated in critical condition in the ICU.
Here are three insights I took away from this.
1. Life is bigger than football
Usually when a player gets injured during a football game, the game resumes once the player is off the field. Everyone goes right back at it and plays to win. But this Monday night was different. The scale of the injury was so vast that the NFL, along with the officiating crew, postponed the game.
It didn’t matter that it was week 17, a game that would have playoff implications. It didn’t matter that it was Monday Night Football and millions of people were watching. It didn’t matter that fans spent a lot of money to come out and watch. Everyone realized that life is bigger than football.
Life is not only bigger than football, it’s bigger than everything else. Sometimes you get so caught up in the small and trivial, in the insane busyness of everyday life, and you lose sight of the bigger picture. You get frustrated and angry, and lose yourself in petty arguments. Remember to take a step back to see and appreciate what’s truly important in life.
2. Show some love while you can
In an interview with NFL Network, a reporter asked Hamlin’s uncle, Dorrian Glenn, about how he and his family are dealing with the situation. Glenn replied with some powerful words:
“It’s tremendous to see all the love and support that my nephew has out here. A lot of people don’t get a chance to see how loved they are while they are alive, so for him to have a situation where he could’ve been taken away and he has a chance to come back and see all that love that he got is a truly amazing thing, and I can’t wait for him to see all the love and support that people have had for him, not just around the area, but around the country and the world. It’s been amazing.”
Many people don’t get a chance to see how loved they are while they’re alive. All too often we wait until a loved one is no longer with us to tell them how much we love them and how much they mean to us.
Don’t wait. Challenge yourself to express the love, respect and admiration you have to your loved ones while they are alive and well.
3. Make the ordinary extraordinary
Damar Hamlin’s injury was shocking; it seemingly came out of nowhere. There was no dangerous head-to-head collision. It was an ordinary situation where the defender tackled the wide receiver. This same play occurs hundreds of times a week, thousands of times a season. This ordinary situation turned into something dramatic and extraordinary — unfortunately, not in a good way.
Doctors are still grappling to understand what exactly happened. The leading theory is that the cardiac arrest resulted from an extremely rare case of commotio cordis, a condition where the heart stops beating due to a blunt force to a specific part of the heart, during a very specific time in between beats of the heart’s cycle. The window for it to occur is a split second.
My thoughts and prayers are with Damar Hamlin and his family. Witnessing this extraordinary event has inspired me to extract some light from this darkness, and to try to turn the seemingly ordinary, routine and mundane into something unbelievable, great and extraordinary. Extraordinary moments don’t have to be rare. With opened eyes and an opened heart, I can discover greater meaning and connection and uplift my day.
Thank God, Hamlin is showing signs of improvement. May he have a speedy and complete recovery.
Rabbi Ori Strum is the author of “Ready. Set. Grow.,” a passionate educator, host of The Torah Sparks Podcast, content creator for the Meaningful Minute app and a property manager in Baltimore, Maryland. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Dallas Area Torah Association (NCSY Semicha Program). Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.