The NFL has come under fire for its handling of the Week 17 Monday Night Football game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals after a medical emergency involving Bills safety Damar Hamlin.
Hamlin, 24, collapsed to the field immediately after briefly standing up after tackling Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins with 5:58 remaining in the first quarter. The Bills’ second-year safety was immediately tended to by medical staff who administered CPR and used an automated external defibrillator, as noted by Fox 19 reporter Joe Danneman.
Danneman reported that the Bills safety had a pulse but was not breathing on his own as he was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Hamlin was listed in critical condition, according to an NFL statement just after 10 p.m. Eastern time. An update from the Bills’ official Twitter account at 1:48 a.m. Eastern time confirmed Hamlin was “currently sedated and listed in critical condition” after suffering “cardiac arrest.”
As the medical staff was tending to Hamlin and preparing to take him to the hospital, ESPN announcer Joe Buck reported on air that the league had given teams notice that they would have five minutes to warm up before play would resume.
Shortly after, Bills head coach Sean McDermott and Bengals coach Zac Taylor met on the field, and players returned to the locker room with play being temporarily suspended.
According to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, league executive Troy Vincent has refuted the initial broadcast reporting, telling Rapoport after midnight Eastern time, “I’m not sure where that came from. … That’s insensitive.”
In the moment, many took to Twitter to criticize the league for apparently attempting to resume play during such an emotional situation, with Hamlin’s medical status still unknown.
NFL Criticized for Actions in Immediate Aftermath of Damar Hamlin Situation
After Buck’s broadcast update that the league had intended to resume the game, many blasted the decision on social media, with one fan calling it “terrible PR.”
NFL reporter Albert Breer compared it to the decision of former commissioner Pete Rozelle to resume play after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, a decision that led to widespread criticism.
“I still can’t believe the coaches had to step in to stop the NFL for warming the players back up to resume the game,” Breer tweeted. “Restarting this game at that point would’ve been at the level of Pete Rozelle playing games after JFK was assassinated. Maybe worse.”
Lindsay Jones, president of the Pro Football Writers of America, shared some blunt comments: “It is totally understandable we won’t hear from McDermott or Taylor tonight. It would be very helpful to hear more from the NFL, though, about why players were initially told they had 5 minutes to get ready and then why it took an hour to call the game off for the night.”
Some former NFL players also joined in criticizing the decision.
“Still can’t believe the NFL INITIALLY said the players have 5 minutes to get ready to resume the game,” tweeted former NFL cornerback Byron Westbrook.
Others shared praise for McDermott and Taylor for apparently coming to an agreement not to resume the game, even before the league made a decision on the game.
“Kudos to Sean McDermott and Zac Taylor for being the adults in the room,” tweeted Nate Geary of Buffalo’s WGR 550. “That’s leadership and I gained a lot of respect for the Bengals coach and organization.”
NFL Suspends Bills-Bengals Game 1 Hour After Hamlin’s Collapse
After Hamlin’s injury took place at 8:55 p.m. Eastern time, players remained on the field until he was taken away in an ambulance, officially departing Paycor Stadium at 9:25 p.m. Eastern time.
ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast later showed McDermott and Taylor meeting in the stadium tunnel, with commentators noting that Bills players had taken off their pads. The broadcast later showed equipment being loaded up on the Bills’ sideline, an apparent sign that they did not plan to finish the game.
The hour-long delay led to more criticism for the NFL, especially as it came long after it had become clear that both teams did not have plans to resume the game.
“It is never too late to do the right thing … but taking an hour to do so was embarrassing but on point for Roger Goodell and the NFL,” tweeted Boston Herald columnist Bill Speros.
It was not clear when — or if — the game would be resumed. Fox 19’s Danneman tweeted at 10:59 p.m. Eastern time that the Bills were flying home on Monday night, while Bills WR Stefon Diggs was seen arriving at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center to be with his teammate. As of midnight Eastern time, much of the team was still at the stadium, according to the ESPN broadcast.