As long as I live, I will never forget January 2nd, 2023. As a veteran sports journalist, it would be incredibly challenging to forget the visual of you collapsing to the ground following a routine tackle in the first quarter of the Monday Night Football Game against the Cincinnati Bengals. At the moment, I had no idea that you suffered a cardiac arrest on the field and your heart momentarily stopped, but my eyes were fixated on the television screen in my office at work.
I was watching the game while preparing a script to go live with a sports update for CBS Sports Network. About a half hour before I was live on-air, I was concerned with ensuring I delivered the correct information about what was going on to listeners across the country. However, more than anything, I was concerned about you. I instantly felt my heart drop.
As scary as that moment was, it’s beyond relief to know that you are now awake and breathing independently. You have spoken to your teammates via FaceTime, and physicians say your neurological function is excellent. Yet there is quite the journey ahead as you remain in critical condition. Forever etched in my mind are the events that followed that moment of your collapse on the field. It was a terrifying moment for you, your family, and the millions of people watching that game across the country.
Covering professional sports for a living, I understand the dangers of football. However, no matter how many football games I have covered in my career, my empathy for athletes has never wavered. I hope those playing the sport they love can safely leave the field.
As I watched your Buffalo Bills teammates surround you and paramedics rush to your aid, my primary emotion was fear. Fear for your health and safety, how your family and teammates were processing what was happening in real-time, and fear that we could lose a young man who, in just 24 years, has already given so much to the world.
You and I have never met, but we share a unique connection as Panthers who studied at the University of Pittsburgh. As Panthers, we constantly acknowledge and salute each other’s excellence across various fields of work with the slogan “Hail To Pitt,” which references our school’s beloved fight song. Wherever I go, Pitt alums are always connected.
That connection is even deeper with my fellow Black alums because many of us know the struggles our ancestors and we had to endure to study and thrive at our great university. We know that on January 15th, 1969, over 40 Black students at Pitt staged a sit-in at a campus computer lab to improve Black life on campus. That protest led to various changes, including the creation of Pitt’s African Studies program. If it weren’t for the efforts of those students, then it would not have been possible to have experienced several courses that shaped my education. We always salute their excellence!
That Monday night, as I followed the news on Twitter, I saw our alma mater’s football team account tweet out, ”Damar Hamlin is the best of us. We love you, 3. Praying for you.”
Damar, “the best of us” is what happened after the moment. The best of us is your teammates and Bengals players refusing to play because your health and safety were bigger than football. There has been backlash about how long the National Football League postponed the game after you were taken off the field. What matters is that instantly the brotherhood you are a part of (NFL players) on that field knew that they couldn’t play if they didn’t know that you were alright. The best of humanity was the outpouring of love and support you received on social media. The people worldwide who donated money to your ‘Chasing M’s Charity Toy Drive’ which, at the time of writing this, is over $8 million) are truly the best of us.
The love directed to you and your family during the first week of the year is because you showed us that you are the best of us. You’re a fighter from McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, and a Black man in America who has been committed to giving back to his community. Giving back was important when you decided to attend Pitt, spurring offers from bigger football programs and staying close to home so that you could continue to be present and a mentor in your seven-year-old brother’s life. It was starting a toy drive at a daycare run by your mother to give hope to children most impacted by the pandemic in your community. That sense of love for people that you have consistently displayed is why you are an inspiration to us all.
The best of us uplifts the world when we experience fear and aren’t sure everything will be alright. I was overjoyed to learn of your progress over the past week after experiencing a cardiac arrest. It’s a blessing that you are awake, responsive, breathing on your own, and, most importantly, spending time with the people you love.
For a moment on January 2nd, your heart stopped beating on the field, but you never stopped “showing heart.” Showing heart isn’t about being the best athlete in the pressurized moments on the field. It’s about how you positively impact the lives of others. I don’t know what is next for you, my Pitt brotha, but I know one thing: I’m confident you will continue to impact this world positively.
Dexter Henry is an award-winning sports journalist from Brooklyn, NY, with over seventeen years of experience in sports journalism. He currently works as a Sports Anchor for the New York Post and Sportsnet New York, as well as an Update Anchor for WFAN/CBS Sports Radio.