Injuries are part and parcel of playing football, but the sports community was left anxiously wondering what happened to Damar Hamlin when the Buffalo Bill’s safety suddenly collapsed after a seemingly routine tackle on Monday, January 2, 2023.

Just nine minutes into the game, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins rammed into Hamlin at full speed, hitting him in the chest area after catching a 13-yard pass from quarterback Joe Burrow. The 24-year-old Hamlin stood up, appeared to adjust his helmet and took two steps before falling backward; his body appearing limp in a horrifying moment for all tuned into the game.

Hamlin would be down for more than 18 minutes while receiving medical attention—both CPR and an automated external defibrillator (AED) were administered before an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital. Bills players gathered around their teammate to shield him from public view, though they and their competitors were visibly distressed by what had occurred to their comrade. Here’s what happened to Damar Hamlin and whether he’s OK.

What happened to Damar Hamlin?

What happened to Damar Hamlin? The Buffalo Bills defensive player experienced cardiac arrest on the football field, according to an official statement by his team. “Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals,” the statement said. “His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the UC Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.”

Damar Hamlin

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Later in the evening, one of Hamlin’s representatives posted an update to Twitter saying his “vitals are back to normal” but he had been intubated while doctors continued to perform tests. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent observed it was of “critical importance” medical professionals were able to restart Hamlin’s heart on the field.

Miami-based cardiologist Dr. Bernard Ashby tweeted that Hamlin’s injury “resembled commotio cordis—a phenomenon that occurs when a sudden blunt impact to the chest causes cardiac arrest.” Despite NFL being such a physical sport, this is an extremely rare occurrence (about 30 cases in the US each year) in contact sports. Dr. Brian Sutterer explained on his YouTube channel that commotio cordis is so rare that it’s a condition “we typically only think we’re going to read about in textbooks.”

He continued: “Essentially what can happen is when you have a blunt trauma to the chest that occurs at exactly the right time in the cardiac electrical cycle, your heart can be sent into cardiac arrest.” The hit has to be hard enough and fall within “milliseconds of a time window” for arrhythmia and arrest to occur. This is why it’s so rarely seen in football and happens on very odd occasions in baseball. Outside of that 15ish millisecond-second window, you’ll “be fine”, explained Dr. Sutterer but commotio cordis is serious and can be life-threatening.

Damar Hamlin


In fact, the National Library of Medicine says some of the earliest reports “may relate to legends like Dim Mak, an ancient Chinese martial art technique to cause death by a carefully directed blow, christened ‘the touch of death’” and provides inspiration for the “five-point palm exploding heart technique” featured in Quentin Tarantino’s martial arts film Kill Bill.

It took the NFL about an hour after Hamlin collapsed to officially suspend the game, as league executives gathered information from referee Shawn Smith, both team’s coaches and the NFL Players Association. “It was fluid and things were changing by the minute,” Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations told TIME. “It was obvious on the phone that the emotions were extremely high. It was a very volatile situation.” ESPN reported both teams were given a five-minute warmup period to resume playing, but Vincent refuted this notion. “I’m not sure where that came from,” he said. “It never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive. That’s not a place we should ever be in.”

NFL Executive Vice President of Communications Jeff Miller added after the postponement: “There’s nothing in consideration right now. Our concern is for the player and his well-being. At the appropriate time, I’m sure that we’ll have a conversation around the next steps regarding the game,” per Newsweek.

The sports world reacts to Damar Hamlin

Social media was bursting with messages of support for Hamlin and his family. The recently retired defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals, J.J. Watt, said on Twitter that after Hamlin’s collapse, the game was “not important.” “Damar Hamlin’s life is important,” Watt said. “Please be ok. Please.”

Damar Hamlin

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Robert Griffin III, a former quarterback who played in the NFL for several seasons asked fans not to reshare the video of Hamlin collapsing but instead share images of the Bills team circling around him. “Share this because we are all Praying for him and his family” he tweeted.

Many fans, including Griffin, questioned why it took the organization so long to call the game off. “CANCEL THE GAME ALREADY,” Griffin said in an all-caps post on Twitter. “No one cares about this game at all anymore,” Griffin said in another post. “Praying for Damar Hamlin the man, the son, the brother and the friend. What just happened was traumatic to so many but all that matters right now is that he STAYS WITH US.”

Hamlin’s condition sent ripples throughout the sporting world beyond NFL, too. LA Lakers star LeBron James said following his game the same night against Charlotte’s Hornets that Hamlin’s collapse was “a terrible thing” to witness. “The safety of players in all sports is always the most important,” James said during a postgame press conference. “You never want to see anything like that happen even in the type of competition that they’re playing in.”

After his horrific injury, support for his toy fundraiser skyrocketed. His GoFundMe page, which via The Chasing M’s Foundation, helps positively impact children hit hardest by the COVID pandemic, is still active and has raised more than $3.8 million, significantly more than its $2,500 goal thanks to more than 146,000 donations. “I saw you get hurt on Monday night football. Sending prayers and love to you and your family. May God heal you completely,” one donor wrote. “Buffalo stands with you. You living through this will be our Super Bowl. We love you,” another wrote.

According to the New York Times, Hamlin was a senior at the University of Pittsburgh when he came up with the idea to give back to his hometown. At the time, he was a team captain and the foundation of Pitt’s defense. In December 2020, he set up this fundraiser for a community toy drive six months before he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL draft. “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,” Hamlin wrote in the introduction of the GoFundMe page.

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