Sky Sports’ Phoebe Schecter, who interned on the Buffalo Bills coaching staff from 2018 to 2019, gives an insight into a very difficult few days for the team and the NFL world in the wake of the cardiac arrest suffered by Damar Hamlin on Monday night…
I watched the game live. I, like everyone when I first saw what happened, had no clue what was going on.
It was so scary for everyone. Such uncertainty. Watching on at the time, they played clips of the players’ reactions and you could tell it was not a normal injury. It really put you on high alert.
Seeing my guys, that I’d worked with since day one for them in the league, like that – Josh Allen, Tre’Davious White, Dion Dawkins – seeing friends upset, I felt emotional. And still do.
They felt the severity of the situation and were helpless, unable to do anything. I felt helpless too, because I just wanted to show my support and tell everyone ‘it’s going to be okay’.
Within sport, we’ve had situations before with Christian Eriksen and Fabrice Muamba who have been through similar. The way Damar got up and then instantly fell down, you knew the severity of the situation and you didn’t know if he was going to be okay. That’s what has been so hard for these past couple of days.
Whether you like sports, or football, you couldn’t watch that and not feel instantly the emotion from everyone. And you could hear a pin drop in that stadium, despite thousands of people being there.
You worry about what the long road to recovery looks like for this young 24-year-old. What’s his neurological state going to be if and when he comes back? That’s why the progress he has been making is so brilliant to hear.
Once he was able to write, his first question was, ‘Did we win?’ That’s brilliant!
Then having Damar, and his family, come on a Zoom and speak to the team and update on how he’s doing, as well as show how thankful they are, that has really helped the team. It’s that first bit of real connection they’ve had to Damar since the incident.
Damar’s father [Mario Hamlin] said it earlier in the week, that Damar would want them to work hard, get back to practice and beat the [New England] Patriots.
Utilising that, ‘let’s do this for Damar, let’s do this for No 3’, that’s going to be something they carry into this game on Sunday.
Buffalo already had sports psychologists on staff, but these days the league are offering even more mental well-being professionals to the teams, bringing more people into the building to give the guys someone to talk to.
It’s still very emotional and the payers are bound to be thinking, going into this game, that if that happened to someone who was young, fit and healthy – an innocuous tackle – then it could happen to me. They need to be able to move past that because that’s a scary mindset to be in.
I’ve been able to speak to some of the guys, and the coaches – who are almost forgotten about; they will see Damar as one of their sons – and they are just trying to focus on the task at hand, work together and communicate.
It’s about being strong for Damar, but knowing that it’s okay to not be okay. Especially earlier in the week, when there was so much uncertainty about where he was.
What are the chances, that on the third day, No 3 would open his eyes! But, until that moment, people didn’t know how to act. Should we be practising? Should we not?
The team have made sure to stay united, all pulling together for each other. That has made it a much better situation.
I’m not surprised. They have such great leaders in that building. You’ve seen it with the press conferences this week. Coach [Sean] McDermott is just the epitome of what a great leader is. And in such unprecedented times, finding the right thing to do is not always easy.
From day dot, when I was with the team, coach McDermott spoke about his values and his beliefs, along with his vision for the team. You just hung on every word he said, because you truly believed in him.
He is a great human, so confident and strong – and he is willing to be held accountable for whatever it may be.
It has to start from the top. And if the Bills have someone like coach McDermott’s example to see and look up to every day, showing these young men the way – and still managing to be vulnerable – that’s how you build trust.
All of those pieces, that having been building inside the organisation under McDermott for years and years, now come to the fore in a situation like this.
The prayer circle on the field as the ambulance left with Damar in it, that was so powerful. Every single member of the Bills staff were together. There are not many teams where you experience that sort of unity – it has taken years to build.
And you can see it in all of the different things the Bills have had to deal with this season. The adversity has not stopped for them. Whether it’s not being able to get home from a game in Chicago for Christmas, or having to fly out early to Detroit due to a blizzard, or because of injuries to key players including the likes of Von Miller and Micah Hyde.
I know every team has some adversity. But it’s a part of this team’s DNA.
The people of Buffalo, and Bills Mafia, they live for the team. They are there to meet them at the airport after road games at 2/3am, waiting for the guys to get off the plane. The team are so engaged with the community, and vice versa.
And it has been incredible how, not just the football community, not just the league, but people worldwide have donated millions to Damar’s GoFundMe page – even The Rock!
It’s just unbelievable how beautiful people can be when they pull together like this. It’s almost like the bat signal had gone up and everyone came to the Damar’s aid. How powerful is that?
It really makes you evaluate and value life when something like this happens. You just think of how one event can effect so many different people.
The way the medical staff handled everything on Monday night was just unbelievable. The speed at which they were able to get to Damar and start CPR, and get the AED out there, it was incredible.
Denny [Kellington], the guy who gave CPR to really save Damar, is rightly getting so much praise.
CPR has to be done within a minute and you need to have an AED on site. We see a lot more now, in public places, but there’s always the need for yet more still. That is the key between life and death in a situation like this.
As for this Sunday’s game against the Patriots, I know from my experience with the Bills, they will be desperate to get the win for No 3.
I’m sending all of my thoughts and prayers to Damar and his family.