The severity of Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin’s injury was apparent quickly. The details of the 24-year-old needing to be resuscitated on the Paycor Stadium turf in Cincinnati weren’t widely known until about an hour later, around the same time the NFL officially decided to suspend Monday’s all-important tilt between the Bills and Bengals. The league no doubt made the right call, eventually. The procrastination saw the term “temporarily suspended” used on the stadium’s scoreboard and on the broadcasts of the game.
The first instinct from the NFL to having CPR administered on the field, and more importantly, the reaction of Buffalo’s players to seeing Hamlin fight for his life feet from them, was to allegedly move past it and give the Bengals and Bills five minutes to warm up before resuming America’s most popular sport, albeit an incredibly barbaric one. Joe Buck said it on ESPN’s broadcast several times. Westwood One radio and ESPN Deportes picked it up, too. Footage of Joe Burrow tossing a ball to a teammate was shown on ESPN’s broadcast. That meant the league supposedly giving the players 300 seconds before lining back up and smashing one another with pads made its way to field level too. NFL executive Troy Vincent has stated multiple times this week that the edict didn’t come from the league. Vincent doubled down and said the league never instituted any window to restart the game.
Buck said the five-minute time frame with hesitation, almost shocked that he had to utter the words on national television with so much mystery happening in front of them. A statement from ESPN earlier this week read: “There was constant communication in real time between ESPN and league and game officials. As a result of that, we reported what we were told in the moment and immediately updated fans as new information was learned. This was an unprecedented, rapidly-evolving circumstance. All night long, we refrained from speculation.” The network hasn’t made any revision to its stance.
The first utterance of “five minutes” for players to get ready took place at 9:15 p.m., and if ESPN relayed incorrect information to its audience from the NFL, it sure took the league a long time to make sure the truth was known. Vincent didn’t state that the 300-second warmup notion didn’t come from the league until Tuesday. Sure, the league had more important and delicate things to deal with. Rectifying such a vile stance should’ve also been a priority if the league communicated the wrong information. It’s clear the long game of telephone failed in this scenario, but Buck clearly states the line: “They’ve been given five minutes to warm up. That’s the word we’ve gotten from the league.” ESPN’s play-by-play commentator isn’t referring to Major League Baseball or The Justice League.
Head coaches Zac Taylor and Sean McDermott (and their respective teams) clearly had no interest in following that command, no matter where it came from. There’s no way some random ESPN staffer made the decision and the referees followed suit. The likely culprit is someone from the NFL who jumped the gun and didn’t realize the grandeur and effect Hamlin’s injury would have, and didn’t update the guidelines after being taken by ambulance from midfield to the locker room area and eventually the ICU. Everyone makes mistakes. Having the NFL own up to it because a player was fighting for his life after making what looked like a routine tackle would bring closure to one of the loose ends from this heart-wrenching episode. Instead, it’s turned into an unnecessary finger point.
The controversy doesn’t come from calling a five-minute warmup “evil.” If it’s an ACL injury where your starting quarterback can’t walk for the next six months, his backup usually gets about the length of a commercial break to get ready. And he’s expected to produce like he didn’t just see someone he’s in every team meeting with sustain a devastating fracture or displacement.
What’s beyond understanding is how anyone thought five minutes to comprehend the trauma Hamlin felt and any reaction from those exposed to it was sufficient. The 300-second mandate didn’t come from thin air. And if it did come from the only authority over NFL games in special situations, the league office, it shows more of their stance that clashes on the gridiron will always mean more than the people getting into those collisions. And it’s shameful.