Football, especially at the professional level, is an extremely brutal and violent game. While there are undeniably incredible moments of athletic grave and beauty on display, at its core there is a physicality and violence that can be unsettling.
But near the end of last season something happened that shocked the entire athletic world.
On a Monday night national telecast Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin lay prone on the ground without a heartbeat.
He had made what seemed a routine tackle, but he was lying flat and still on the field.
Hamlin’s heart had stopped. Thankfully it was revived and he was rushed to the hospital in Cincinnati.
That he ultimately recovered was both a blessing and tribute to modern medicine and the great condition of a 25-year-old in top physical health.
But now, only a few months later, Hamlin is not only back with the team, he is working out with them and planning to return to full duty next season.
To be sure, the team had him examined by multiple cardiologists and they all cleared him. Hamlin has been very vocal about hs return, saying he feels great and is anxious to get back on the field.
From one standpoint, that Hamlin coming back is an inspirational tale. Anybody coming back from near death to recovery is a great thing, and no one should kid themselves thar Hamlin was not near death when his heart stopped.
But the possibility also exists that he may be taking too big of a chance in returning.
Yes it was a weird, seldom scene incident that led to his situation, but the point is it did happen. That Hamlin is willing to risk it recurring is one thing. Whether the league should let him is another question.
This brings up a recurring issue for not only the NFL but pro sports in general. When is it counter productive for athletes to insist in playing through pain and injuries? Hockey and football players pride themselves on their toughness. But the flip side of that is they continually risk long-term damage to their bodies. The average NFL career is less than five years. The number of football and hockey players whose knees are shot or are suffering from concussion-related injuries is lengthy, and in some cases shameful.
So, while wishing nothing but the best for Damar Hamlin and respecting his right to make the decision to return, you also wonder if both he and the Bills might be rolling the dice one time too many, and taking a huge risk with his health and future.