As a Buffalo native and a lifelong Bills fan, I was watching the Bills-Bengals game with Owen last Monday night between two premier NFL teams fighting for playoff positioning. We saw Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapse on the field.
By now, most of the country knows what happened: after making a hard tackle on a Cincinnati receiver, Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest. The Bills training staff and medical personnel administered CPR. It was an unprecedented situation for the NFL: a player’s heart had stopped on the field. The game itself was canceled.
Like many fans, I was shaken, even choked up. There was a period of time I thought Hamlin had died. I also felt complicit for watching such a violent sport, although my support is more about Buffalo than it is about football. If the Bills didn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t be that interested in football.
We now know that Hamlin didn’t die. After long and intense resuscitation efforts by medical personnel, his heartbeat was restored. He was transported to the trauma center, intubated, and regained consciousness after several days. He still has a long road to travel to recover.
How did Hamlin survive? There are two main (and connected) narratives making the rounds. One is that Buffalo Bills trainer Denny Kellington’s quick actions and expertise saved Hamlin’s life. The other is that he was saved through the power of prayer and god’s intervention.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised about the pervasiveness of this second narrative. We remain a religious nation. Eighty-one percent of Americans believe in god and 42 percent of those who believe in god also believe that god can hear their prayers and intervene on their behalf.
I fully support anyone’s right to their religious beliefs. Still, I was taken aback by all the credit going to god for saving Hamlin’s life. If god did that, why didn’t this powerful deity save the 40 people who died in the blizzard that struck Buffalo at Christmas time, or the five children who died in a house fire in Buffalo last week, or the countless other people who die every day all over the world despite loved ones praying for them?
Yes, I’m being simplistic, and yes, I already know the answer—god works in mysterious ways. Someone once said to me that “God hears all prayers, but sometimes says no.” That statement stuck with me because it was never clear why one person gets a yes and the other a no.
In the case of Damar Hamlin, for those who prayed for him, your god answered yes, reinforcing your faith and providing you comfort in an uncertain world. For me, Hamlin was saved by the medical response team, the trauma doctors at the hospital, and an X factor that is every bit as mysterious as any god: luck.
Welcome back Damar, however you got here. May your team now be inspired to win the Super Bowl.