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Damar's Caring Community ‒ Unexpected Shock Occurring During An NFL Game

Written by: Nancy McCormack MSN, RN NC-BC, Executive Contributor and in collaboration with Theresa Drass

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


As we watched the tragedy of 24-year-old Damar Hamlin’s collapse last night and this morning, many things resonated with me as a human, as a mom and as a healthcare provider. It has been especially impactful because he is a young man who so far in his brief life, has triumphed over adversity, is demonstratively charitable, and on this night was realizing his hard-earned dream as he took the field to play what to this point, was to be the biggest game of his life. I join the rest of you in grieving this devastation and sincerely wishing him a full recovery followed by a long and happy life.

Because this was such an unexpected shock occurring during an NFL game of significant consequence, the news traveled quickly and the reaction was widespread and intense. We watched and listened as too much focus was wrongly diverted from Damar while collective fear far too often and disappointingly was expressed as destructive anger. Outrage unnecessarily grew as miscommunication spread.

Commentators erroneously complained about the league greedily expecting the game to resume within five minutes with disregard to what was happening with Damar as well as how his family and teammates were responding to it. It was reported this morning that Troy Vincent, Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the NFL, stated that this was never the case. All too familiar dissent increased as some people used the situation to incomprehensibly suggest that this injury was related to vaccines. Then there was cruel and ugly backlash about a contentious Fox Sports’ reporters misinterpreted tweet. When I read the tweet- and the tweets that preceded and followed it- it seemed obvious that there was no malice intended. I was disheartened that so much time and energy had been wasted on this grandstanding while Damar’s life hung in the balance and his family and community needed all the support and positive vibes they could get from us. It reinforced what we already know about positively dealing with difficult times-gather the facts, know the truth, and focus on what and who really matters.

I was comforted and relieved that this ugliness was overshadowed by an even bigger unified outpouring of care about and for this young man and all those who love him. It was repeatedly pointed out that Damar’s mom, Nina, was in the stands watching her son last night and was thankfully able to accompany him in the ambulance and at the hospital. It’s been repeated so often because family support matters so much.

The NFL community on the field and throughout the country led us in showing dedicated compassion for and about Damar. We sympathetically watched the players of both teams join together in prayer. Over and over again, there appeared the representative picture of a Bengals fan holding a sign reading, “Pray for Buffalo 3 Hamlin.” The Bengals lit up their stadium in the Bills’ colors. Cohesiveness of community is part of coping.

Nationally, we showed our goodness and generosity not only by expressing our shared experience in kind words and helpful suggestions on social media, but also by donating more than $3 million to Damar’s charity, The Chasing M Foundation. When starting it, Damar wrote, "As I embark on my journey to the NFL, I will never forget where I come from, and I am committed to using my platform to positively impact the community that raised me." This is how the community works; he gave to those who need and we now we’re giving back!

As a nurse, other logistical aspects of this situation that I hope to continue to be considered include the healthcare system response. We learned, and as a nation who continues to revise and develop its healthcare system can learn from, the details of the best practice structures in place that ensured a prompt and competent response for Damar. NFL standards of note include the use of data, the availability of an adequate number of consistent and credentialed personnel, research and science, data collection and analysis, technology, appropriate equipment, substantive mental health resources, diversity, etc.

Some excerpts from the NFL Player Health and Safety Fact Sheet:

The National Football League is committed to advancing progress in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries, enhancing medical protocols, improving how the game is taught and played, and protecting players' overall health, safety and wellbeing.

Player Health and Wellness

The NFL continues to make changes on and off the field to protect the health and safety of every player.

CARING FOR PLAYERS ON GAME DAY-On average, there are 30 healthcare providers at a stadium on game day to provide immediate care to players.

NFL Medical Committees

The NFL is advised by many of the world's preeminent experts in medicine and science. NFL medical committees frequently review player health and injury data and recommend policies, programs and protocols for the League. An overarching Health and Safety Committee—including chairs of the General Medical Committee, the Head, Neck and Spine Committee and the Musculoskeletal Committee—oversees committee efforts and facilitates collaboration among subject-matter experts, team physicians and athletic trainers. The NFL also works closely with the NFLPA and its medical advisors on player health and safety issues. More information on NFL Medical Committees and their membership can be found here.

Medical Research

The NFL supports preeminent experts and institutions in their research on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of sports-related injuries and other issues affecting NFL players' health, safety and wellbeing.

Additional Research

The NFL has also allotted more than $30 million to support brain injury research conducted by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), Department of Defense, and Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mental Health and Wellness

In collaboration with the NFLPA, the NFL fosters a positive culture around mental health by providing players and the NFL family with resources and tools to succeed, on and off the field, over the course of their lives.

Joint Behavioral Health Agreement

The Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee, which develops mental health and wellness programs and resources for players and the wider NFL family, requires each club to retain a Behavioral Health Team Clinician to support players' emotional and mental health and wellbeing.

Mental Health Resources

The league provides mental wellness benefits and resources to current and former players.

Pain Management

The NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee educates players and personnel on best clinical practices in pain management, awards grant funding for research to advance understanding of alternative treatments, and sets standards for club policies regarding pain management and the use of prescription medications by NFL players.

Preventing the spread of infectious disease

Before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the NFL was working with epidemiologists and infectious disease experts to prevent the spread of infection in the NFL team environment and to prepare for potential viral outbreaks. For the past two NFL seasons, the NFL, together with the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), have worked with medical experts and clinicians to develop COVID-related player safety protocols and were able to complete the 2020 and 2021 seasons on schedule. In addition, the NFL has worked closely with the NFLPA and club medical staffs to educate and encourage players to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, resulting in a nearly 95% vaccination rate for NFL players and nearly 100% for personnel. More information on the NFL's COVID-19 protocols can be found here.

Diversifying Sports Medicine

As part of the NFL's overall commitment to ensuring that staff and leaders in the league office and at NFL clubs reflect the racial and gender makeup of America, leaders in NFL Player Health and Safety are working to diversify the pipeline of people interested in pursuing careers in sports medicine and, over time, to help diversify NFL club medical staff. These efforts include, but are not limited to, a new NFL Diversity in Sports Medicine Pipeline Initiative that will provide medical students at the four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) medical schools with the opportunity to complete a clinical rotation with NFL club medical staff. More information on diversity efforts in NFL Player Health and Safety can be found here.

Equipment, Data and Innovation

The NFL is championing new developments in engineering, biomechanics and material science to better protect against injuries. The league collaborates with the NFLPA and the world's foremost engineers and scientists as advisors.

Leveraging Data

Data is at the heart of the NFL's decisions about player health and safety.

  • Electronic Medical Records: Every club's medical staff has access to its players' complete medical records via the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system. Players can access their records at any time using a secure online portal, which remains active after the player retires. The EMR system helps the league make data-driven decisions on rules changes and permissible techniques used in play.

  • Mouthguard Sensors to Measure On-Field Head Impacts: In 2019, the NFL introduced a novel program in which NFL players wore mouthguards retrofitted with high-tech sensors designed to collect kinematic data, including impact speed, direction, force, location and severity. As of 2022, this program includes four universities at the collegiate level : The University of Alabama, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The University of Washington, and the University of Wisconsin. Insights gleaned from the data collected help inform the NFL's approach to injury reduction and decrease head impacts overall.

  • Taking Data to the Next Level: In 2019, the NFL partnered with Amazon Web Services to transform player health and safety using cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence. The NFL and AWS are developing tools to generate better insights into injuries, specifically the impact of game rules, equipment, and rehabilitation and recovery strategies. One of the partnership's primary goals is building the capacity to predict injuries before they occur.

Using data to drive rules changes

The NFL improves player safety by taking a data-driven approach to eliminating potentially dangerous tactics and reducing the risk of injuries. Over the past decade, these include changes that protect "defenseless" players and penalize dangerous techniques and other plays, such as using the helmet as part of a bull rush.

The Engineering Roadmap

Since 2016, the NFL has allocated over $60 million to the creation and funding of the Engineering Roadmap. It's a comprehensive effort—funded by the NFL and managed by Football Research, Inc. (FRI)—to improve the understanding of the biomechanics of head injuries in professional football and to create incentives for helmet manufacturers, small businesses, entrepreneurs, universities and others to develop and commercialize new and improved protective equipment, including helmets.

  • HeadHealthTECH Challenges: For five years, HeadHealthTECH Challenges have attracted innovative grant proposals from institutions, individuals and corporations interested in designing the next generation of protective equipment. The Challenges are operated and managed by Duke University's Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which provides constructive feedback for all applicants. Thus far, the NFL and FRI have awarded grants totaling nearly $3 million to help advance the development of 17 new technologies.

  • 1st and Future: From 2016 to 2021, the NFL hosted a start-up competition at the Super Bowl to drive innovation in athlete safety and performance. Innovators and entrepreneurs share technologies to improve player health and safety, including protective equipment, medical devices, sensors and training devices. 1st and Future includes an Analytics Competition that enables data scientists to analyze NFL game data and propose new ideas for reducing injuries

Equipment Testing and Evaluation

The NFL and NFLPA work together to evaluate the performance of protective equipment and to ensure players are informed about the latest advances in equipment technology when making decisions about their helmets, cleats and other equipment.

Sharing Progress

The NFL is committed to sharing its progress in health and safety across all levels of football, with other sports around the world and for the benefit of society at large. This includes publishing peer-reviewed research, convening leaders in sports medicine for important conversations, sharing data and crowdsourcing new ideas.

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Nancy McCormack MSN, RN NC-BC, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nancy McCormack is a board certified Nurse Coach focusing on mental health and wellness. Her training throughout almost two decades of Nursing has been exclusive to the mental health population, including substance abuse and eating disorders. She is currently the owner of EverPresent Health and Wellness, dedicating her practice to empowering those struggling with mental health disorders. Nancy focuses on integrative nutrition, mindfulness, and person-centered care to promote wellness and sustainability. She also is a university professor sharing her knowledge and experience with new nurses in order to break down barriers and eliminate the stigma surrounding this population.



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