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Buffalo Bulletin: Damar Hamlin Returns to Play



After his heart stopped on the field on January 2nd, Damar Hamlin wasn’t sure he’d see tomorrow, let alone the field. On April 18th, the Buffalo Bills safety announced his return to play. You can watch the full press conference here.

The announcement isn’t a surprise, knowing the competitor that Hamlin is. He’d previously stated that he would love to come back to the game, but just had to be cleared medically. Now, he has his chance.

What Happened to Damar Hamlin?

What happened to Damar Hamlin was not as unusual as it seems. It’s the darker side of sports, the unspoken risk that comes with the glory. All the time, was say things like ‘putting it all on the line’ or ‘risking everything’. These aren’t just clichés; those words hold real meaning. It’s something that Damar was forced to come face to face with nearly four months ago.

Damar Hamlin, Buffalo Bills, Safety Commotio Cordis, Cardiac Arrest, NFL Draft

He suffered what is the most common cause of death to young athletes in all of sports. It’s called Commotio Cordis, and occurs when something impacts the chest above the heart at a specific time during the heartbeat. The impact stops the heart, causing sudden cardiac arrest. It can occur to anyone, regardless of health status. With the information available, it seems that Hamlin was a victim of poor timing, something he could have never controlled.

The heart is structurally healthy, as it often is in young people who suffer the injury. Based on that conclusion, there should be nothing truly preventing Damar Hamlin from returning to play. What is it going to take to get him back on this football team?

Returning to Play

Damar Hamlin still has an uphill climb ahead of him, but he’s confident in his ability to get back out there.

“I’ve been beating statistics my whole life, so I like my chances here.”

– Damar Hamlin, Offseason Media Availability (Apr 18th, 2023)

If he wants to return to the field. there are three factors he has to beat.

The Mental Side

Damar Hamlin died. That’s not a conspiracy theory, nor is it an exaggeration. For a brief moment, Hamlin was not with us. It’s the most horrifying and traumatizing thing that could possibly come from playing a game. Even with excellent psychiatric help, that event may have effects that last for his entire lifetime.

“They almost lost me – I died on national TV in front of the whole world.”

– Damar Hamlin, Offseason Media Availability (Apr 18th, 2023)

At the time of the incident, my fellow Buffalo Fanatics writer Alex Spencer wrote a phenomenal piece on humanity in sports. It reminds us all that there is more to this than just winning and losing, and there are people behind those beautiful red, white, and blue uniforms. Damar Hamlin has overcome so much already, and the mental weight of knowing he’s putting himself back into a situation which caused his sudden death may be too much.

Every tackle may be a reminder of what happened, and that it could happen again. Each hit could be the last. It was something we knew implicitly before, but that we’re critically aware of now.

“He’s in a great headspace to make his return.”

– Brandon Beane, Offseason Media Availability (Apr 18th, 2023)

Damar was well-spoken, and clear in his direction during his press conference. According to himself and those around him, there are no further reservations. If he’s truly ready to go back to what he loves, then he has only two more obstacles to face.

Physical Fitness

This is still tough, but possibly the easiest part of his recovery. For Damar Hamlin, getting back to where he was is a matter of necessity. Returning to peak playing form after a four month interruption and potential trauma to the body is a huge task. It’s also what he’s been doing his entire career. Ripping your body to nothing and building it back up again is simply another Tuesday for some NFL-calibre athletes.

“Physically, I’m pretty much building this thing up from zero to 100, you know, but that’s the favorite part about the game – I love the process.”

– Damar Hamlin, Offseason Media Availability (Apr 18th, 2023)

It’s going to be a lot of work, especially considering how far behind his teammates he likely is, but it’s work he’s willing to do. He’s been working out, and will continue fighting to recover the form he had just a few months ago. If he can get back into form, he’ll still need to clear one massive hurdle to play in the 2023 NFL season.

Making the Roster

It would be a massive understatement to say that this is a tough safety room to crack.

With the surprise retention of Jordan Poyer, and the return of Micah Hyde from his Week 2 neck injury, Buffalo has both of its All-Pro starters at Safety. It isn’t a position group that the Bills typically keep more than four players at, and they’ve picked up a starting-calibre safety in Taylor Rapp of the L.A. Rams in Free Agency.

That provides Damar Hamlin with very little room for error. If the Buffalo Bills do invest in a safety during the 2023 NFL Draft, things get very murky indeed.

Damar Hamlin, Safety, Buffalo Bills
Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

Fortunately, Hamlin was the top safety off the bench in 2022, and got a great deal of playing time as a result. It helps his case, but the loss of Leslie Frazier modifies the defensive system, and the value he provides having already been immersed in that defense is mitigated. McDermott will still value his experience, but will he be able to get back to the level he was at, and still play well enough to make this 53-man roster?

Welcome Home, Damar

All-in-all, a formidable journey still lies ahead of Damar Hamlin. It’s a long way to the top of the mountain, but if he looks down he’ll see just how far he’s already come. There is no player better equipped to deal with adversity and, with any luck, it won’t be long before we see him out there again.

Like this piece? Check out the previous Buffalo Bulletin on the Buffalo Bills’ top-30 pre-draft visits, who they’re meeting with, and what it means.

The Buffalo Bulletin on Buffalo Fanatics is a weekly editorial by Iestyn Harris. Check back regularly for hot topics, riveting discussion, and, occasionally, some actual insight.

Original Featured Image: Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images; Composite By Iestyn Harris

One of the owners The Sports Wave, and a Journalist at Buffalo Fanatics, I'm an English immigrant living in Canada. A huge Buffalo Bills fan, I also love my Boston Celtics, Toronto Blue Jays, and Queens Park Rangers.