When Thumbs Up Doesn’t Come, Then What?

by Kevin Burton

   When I was a sort of young beep baseball player, I had a team mate who always talked about heart guards. 

   Beep baseball is baseball for blind players. The ball is slightly bigger than a softball and depending on who made the ball, it can be quite hard. 

   When you have no vision (partially-sighted players such as myself are blindfolded so we don’t have an advantage over players with no vision) you don’t get guys out by plucking the ball out of the air with a glove. You hone in on the sound of the beeping ball and you block it with your body. 

   Grown men crushing the ball as hard as they can, and you’re putting your body in harm’s way to make a putout.

   At the time there was some story in the news about am athlete being injured with trauma to the chest area. I forget the details. So my team mate was saying we should wear heart guards and talking about where we could get them.

   Well I was young and, I thought, immortal.  I had just learned that blind people could play baseball and I was way, way into it. 

  We were all laughing at this team mate.  I said, “Hey man, that’s how I want to go, making a putout, making a play.”

   Those are the thoughts that came to mind after I watched Monday Night Football last night, and saw Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin crumble to the turf, motionless, after a hard hit to the chest.

   Hundreds of times we have seen players hit hard and hurt badly.  In cases where a cart is summoned to take the player off the field, we often see the player give a thumbs-up signal to the fans. There is applause for the injured player and then the game continues.

   That thumbs-up amounts to permission for us fans to not feel heartless as we continue to watch men in pajamas engaging in car-wreck-level collisions for our entertainment. “Party on” it says.

   But what if the thumbs up doesn’t come?

   “Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital after collapsing on the field with cardiac arrest Monday night in a game against the Bengals that was postponed” wrote Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports.

   “The Bills announced his diagnosis of cardiac arrest early Tuesday morning, hours after he left the stadium in an ambulance.”

   “Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals,” the Bills’ statement reads. “His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the UC Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.”

   “On what seemed like a routine Tee Higgins catch for a first down, he was tackled by Bills safety Damar Hamlin. Hamlin stood up after making the tackle, but soon after he fell backward as if he fainted,” wrote Patrick Judis on Cincy Jungle a Bengals fan site on Facebook.  “He was down for over 20 minutes. During that time he was administered CPR and taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in an ambulance.”

   “Originally, it seemed like teams would be given a few minutes to warm up and continue the game, but soon after that, head coaches Zac Taylor and Sean McDermott got together to help ensure the game was at least temporarily suspended,” Judis wrote.

   “At about 9:17 p.m., a little more than 20 minutes after Hamlin collapsed, officials said the game was temporarily suspended. Both teams headed back to the locker room. Less than an hour later, after ESPN showed footage of Bills head coach Sean McDermott and Bengals head coach Zac Taylor taking turns talking on a cell phone outside of the locker rooms underneath the stadium, the game was suspended.” Schwab wrote.

   Hamlin was in real trouble last night. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in a lifetime of sports fandom.  It made me question my priorities.

   I listened as statistic-spewing sports guys had pivot quickly from game-of-the-year football fever to talk about life and death.

   They never quite made it to talking about life after death though. 

   Life after death kind of emerges as a hot topic the closer you get to it, much like the NFL playoffs.

   The NFL will get some criticism for its initial reaction to the injury, which was that players would get five minutes to recover and then play would resume.  It seemed that the league said go, but the players said no.

   The image-conscious NFL is already back pedaling from this notion.  But there is no back pedaling from the life after death issue.

   “Ánd as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” reads Heb. 9:27 KJV.   

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